Here’s a question that’s older than the country. Should first cousins (or for that matter, siblings) be allowed to marry and have children? And does the state have both a duty and the authority to prevent this from happening and imprison those who violate the law? That might be tested out in Utah this year. Michael Lee and Angela Peang are married and expecting their first child together this spring. They are also first cousins. And since both marrying your cousin and having sex with them are still crimes in Utah, they could potentially face lengthy prison terms if the state decides to prosecute them. (NY Post)

Michael Lee and Angela Peang can hardly wait for the birth of their first child — even if it results in them spending time behind bars.

The husband and wife from Eagle Mountain, Utah, are first cousins: Peang’s father is the older brother of Lee’s mother.

Since the baby’s existence proves they had sex, they could face up to $10,000 in fines and five years in prison, because intercourse between cousins is illegal in their home state, due to the long-held fear of birth defects.

There are several reasons I would emphasize the idea that Lee and Peang might be in legal trouble, with the first being that is that this is all part of a show. And I mean literally a reality show being made for television about “extreme love.” This isn’t to say that the two aren’t married in real life and expecting a child. It seems certain that they are. But it’s also being worked into a drama, so I tend to tread carefully around such stories.

Also, it’s not clear that any law enforcement officials in Utah are actually considering prosecuting them or even care about their marriage in the first place. The law against first cousins having sex is still on the books, but I haven’t been able find a record of anyone being prosecuted for it anywhere in the country since 1993. (And even that one looks a little dodgy because one of the cousins was a convicted felon out on parole and it’s suggested the cops were looking to tag him with another felony to put him back behind bars.)

But since these laws are still on the books in roughly half the states of the nation, it’s worth asking if they aren’t just antiquated rules that need to be done away with. The question of whether or not the states can ban such marriages and sexual relationships is fairly clear. Nobody has a constitutional right to marry or have intercourse, so if the elected representatives of the state’s residents want such laws, I suppose they can have them.

But should they? The only arguments in favor are either based on religious convictions or a concern that the state should attempt to prevent genetic disorders arising in the offspring of incestuous relationships. The odds of first cousins passing on a genetic disorder are barely higher than with unrelated couples, but those percentages shoot up quite a bit when siblings reproduce. But many people who have inheritable genetic conditions still marry and have children. The government doesn’t seek to bar them from marrying or having kids.

Still, there’s something seemingly built into our collective consciousness when it comes to mating with our relatives. I don’t recall if I ever shared this story, but that situation almost happened to me. My wife and I had been living together for about six months before I proposed. (Yes, yes… I know. We were living in sin. Try to forgive me.) Shortly after that our mothers met for the first time to discuss wedding plans, particularly the guest list.

My mother-in-law looked at my mom’s list and remarked with surprise, “you’ve invited quite a few McCormacks. How do you know them?” (Surname changed to protect the family’s privacy.) My mom replied, “My grandfather was Archie McCormack.” The mother-in-law said, “That’s amazing. My grandfather’s name was Archie McCormack!”

Before the day was out they had located an old black and white photo of a family reunion held in the 1930s and they were both in the picture. They both had a grand old laugh over this. I, on the other hand, moved out of our bedroom. I really found nothing at all hilarious about the idea that I’d spent the last year sleeping with my cousin.

Thankfully, a bit of genealogy research into the family bibles eventually revealed that my great grandfather had married twice. The first marriage resulted in three children, one of them being my grandmother. But his wife passed away giving birth. He later remarried, taking as his bride a woman with a few children who had similarly been widowed at an early age. To bind the family, she took his surname and also legally changed the names of her children to match. One of those was my wife’s great grandfather, so it turned out we were only related by marriage. Thankfully, the wedding was back on and we’ve now been together for nearly 25 years.

But the point of sharing this story is that I was seriously prepared to call off the wedding when I thought we were blood relatives. It’s something that just seems to be baked into our systems. But does that mean it should be illegal? As I said, that’s for the states to decide. But it still strikes me as an archaic concept.