peace and hotep,
"Pennsylvania Cousins Marry In Maryland
Cousins Married In Maryland Speak Out
Apr 4, 2005 3:05 pm US/Eastern
Pittsburgh, PA. (AP) It started out as the kind of childhood crush that often becomes family lore shared at reunions years later.
Eventually though, first cousins Donald W. Andrews Sr. and Eleanore Amrhein realized they had a deeper love and wanted to marry. But they couldn't do it in their home state of Pennsylvania, or 23 other states that prohibit first cousins from marrying.
Instead, they tied the knot last month in Maryland, and their nuptials highlighted a relationship that often draws scorn but advocates say is just misunderstood.
"This is a decision me and my husband have made on our own. We never thought of it being publicized," Eleanor Andrews, 37, said in a telephone interview last week from their home in Logan Township, Blair County. "We didn't want the publicity. We wanted the rights like anybody had the rights."
Tonight Show host Jay Leno and Rush Limbaugh discussed their marriage.
"Me and her's been through pure hell from the get-go and our love has survived that and will survive anything else that comes up against it," said Donald Andrews, 39.
Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia allow first cousins to wed, according to the National Conference of State
Legislatures. Of those states, five have requirements aimed at preventing reproduction and one state requires genetic counseling. Such marriages are common in the Middle East, Asia and Africa and are legal in Europe and Canada.
Martin Ottenheimer, an anthropology professor at Kansas State University, said laws against cousins marrying should be done away with. He wrote the 1996 book "Forbidden Relatives: The American Myth of Cousin Marriage" and said opposition developed in the 19th century under misguided evolutionary theories, long before the development of modern genetics.
"It seems that the basis of the whole thing is that cousin marriage ... represents some primitive animal-like behavior," he said.
Experts said they are unaware of anyone who tracks how many cousins marry, though they think it's more common that people think.
Robin Bennett, associate director of the medical genetics clinic at the University of Washington, said laws prohibiting cousins from marrying are "a form of genetic discrimination.
Bennett was the lead author of a 2002 study on risks of genetic problems in children born in such marriages. The study found that children born to couples who are first or second cousins have a lower risk for birth defects than commonly perceived.
On average, an unrelated couple has an approximately 3 percent to 4 percent risk of having a child with a birth defect,
significant mental retardation or serious genetic disease. Close cousins face an additional risk of 1.7 percent to 2.8 percent, according to the study, funded by the National Society of Genetic Counselors, a professional group based in Wallingford, Pa., and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"In general terms, those (risks) are considered not that much different than average," Bennett said.
Cousins contemplating having children -- the Andrews are not -- should seek genetics counseling to learn of any potential risks, Bennett said. But with America's stigmatization of such marriages, she said she fears that many people don't seek the counseling.
Christie Smith, 40, of Las Vegas, founded Cousins United to Defeat Discriminating Laws through Education, or CUDDLE International, in 2002 to overturn laws against cousins marrying. So far, the group hasn't found much success.
Smith said she believes the practice of marrying cousins is largely misunderstood because of ignorance and misinformation.
"People don't like what they don't understand," Smith said.
Smith fell in love with her husband after seeing him at a family reunion after many years apart.
"It was this immediate sense of, 'Wow, I came home.' It started as a friendship and grew," she said. They celebrated their sixth wedding anniversary on New Year's Day.
Her deeply Christian family, she said, was supportive.
"My dad was very supportive. He said, 'At least you're marrying into a good family this time,"' said Smith, who has been married before.
Smith said she is quick to dispel misconceptions.
"I am so far out there, I am not afraid to tell anybody. In fact, right now I am wearing a shirt that says 'I married my cousin! Got a problem with that?"' she said last week."
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