Married First Cousins Expecting Baby Face Prison Time -- But Have Zero Regrets

Michael Lee and Angela Peang

Michael Lee and Angela Peang are expecting their first child together, but the unusual nature of their relationship means that the two could face incarceration when Peang gives birth. Peang and Lee of Eagle Mountain, Utah, aren't just husband and wife -- they're first cousins. (To give you a better idea of the family tree: Peang's father is the older brother of Lee's mother.) Although the couple married in Colorado, where it's legal for first cousins to wed, that isn't the case in their home state of Utah, and their unborn child poses a legal risk to what the couple describes as a happy marriage.

  • The couple could face up to $10,000 in fines and five years in prison for violating Utah's law against first cousins having sex.

    Peang's pregnancy serves as irrefutable proof that the two have had intercourse, leaving them vulnerable to legal action, according to the New York Post. 

    Utah's ban on sex between cousins has to do with the proven risk of birth defects -- which are pretty serious, according to researchers. In fact, a study conducted by the Journal of Genetic Counseling found that health issues such as spina bifida or cystic fibrosis were found in 3% to 4% of all babies, but for babies born to first cousins, those risks go up by 1.7 to 2.8 percentage points.

    Still, the couple, both 38, believe that their soon-to-be son will beat those odds. 

    “We had to do our due diligence because everyone was saying to us, ‘No, don’t do that,’ and ‘It’s so risky and irresponsible,'” Peang, who is due May 22, told the Post. “So we did genetic testing and found out it was OK for us to parent together.”

    The couple also pointed out that marriage between couples who are first cousins is legal in more than half of U.S. states, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, and Colorado, as well as Canada and Europe. So when it comes to their union, Lee and Peang have a strict “mind your own business” policy.
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  • The couple said they've always felt a strong connection to one another, ever since they were kids.

    Peang's father was stationed abroad until 1989 when she was 7, when the family returned home to the United States. The cousins first met each other that year when Lee and his family came to visit.

    “There was an instant connection between us,” recalled Lee, a car salesman. “We were very much simpatico."

    Peang said that she remembers the two kissing in a dark closet, worried that they'd get found out.

    “We were slow-dancing together and I was kind of worried we’d get caught and be in trouble,” she recalled. “But it just felt right.”

    Lee even told his mother that one day he wanted to grow up and marry Peang.

    “My aunt said, ‘No, you can’t marry Angie,’ ” Peang explained. “‘But you can be good friends.'”

  • Eventually, the cousins did go on to marry different partners -- but things didn't last.

    Peang has three children from a previous marriage, including two girls, 17 and 16 years old, and a son who is 12. Lee, who was married for an undisclosed length of time, had no children.

    In October 2018, the two cousins reconnected over Facebook and learned that they'd each been through a divorce. According to Peang, she was delighted to learn Lee lived in Utah, which is where she too had settled. The pair finally reunited in person at their grandmother's Christmas party, where it was clear those old feelings were still there. Peang even recalled holding on to her cousin's waist "a little longer than you would with a typical family member."

  • The pair soon started dating, although not everyone in their immediate circle was happy about it.

    Peang admits that one of her daughters was pretty distraught over her decision to date Lee, though she now believes it was more about the fact that her mother was dating someone new. Peang and Lee's parents also struggled with the nature of their relationship, although eventually, they came around to respecting it.

    Still, other family members were furious when the pair posted a photo of themselves French kissing in January 2019. Some even called the picture "disgusting." 

    Lee is unfazed. “I couldn’t care less,” he told the Post.

  • In March 2019, the couple finally said 'I do,' and traveled to Grand Junction, Colorado, (where it's legal to marry your cousin) to get hitched. 

    “We got married, not because we’re religious, but to protect ourselves legally,” Peang explained. “We also wanted to legitimize our relationship to console members of our family, hoping it would put them at ease.”

  • The couple is fighting for Utah to legalize marriage between first cousins.

    They've even launched a petition online and have collected 1,500 signatures and counting. But they'll still need tens of thousands more to be taken seriously. 

    “Our strongest argument is that Utah is in the minority with this law,” Peang said. Both she and her husband were raised Mormon, in which a small sect of followers still practice polygamy. “You’d think they’d want to be more mainstream and less strange, considering what they already do with polygamy," she said.

    Peang added that both she and her husband were relieved when blood tests proved it was genetically safe for them to have a baby together. The couple have even agreed to be on an episode of WeTv's "Extreme Love,” which will air at 10 p.m. EST Friday.

    The mom-to-be added that their physical connection is as strong as ever.

    “We have a strong attraction and it’s very mutually satisfying,” Peang explained. “You have the erotic side, the friendship side, the family side, and the spiritual connection. It’s a supercharged relationship."