Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The first cousins from Pennsylvania who were denied a marriage license in their home state said they were married Monday in Maryland. Twenty-six states and the District allow such weddings.

Pennsylvania Judge Jolene Kopriva said state law prohibits marriages between first cousins because their children could have birth defects.

The couple — Eleanor Amrhein, 46, and Donald W. Andrews Sr., 39, of Logan Township, Pa. — would not publicly say where in Maryland they were married.

Thomas McCarthy Jr., an Annapolis-based lawyer who specializes in civil litigation and family law, said Maryland law allows such unions.

“The law is pretty clear,” he said. “And that is surprising considering Maryland usually falls on the sides of those states that are more conservative and restrictive.”

Virginia is also among the states that allow first cousins to marry, according to information from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The District and 20 states permit such marriages without restrictions. But six other states have some limitations.

For example, Arizona allows first cousins to marry only if they are older than 65 or cannot have children.

The Pennsylvania couple’s mothers are sisters.

Maryland Delegate Henry B. Heller, Montgomery Democrat, introduced a bill in 2000 that would prohibit first-cousin marriages in the state. The bill was defeated in the Senate, but Mr. Heller said he might revisit the issue next year.

“It’s like playing genetic roulette,” he said.

Proponents of cousins marrying say the risk of birth defects among offspring is exaggerated. According to the Web site, www.cousincouples.com, children of nonrelated couples have a 2 percent to 3 percent risk of birth defects, while children of first cousins have a 4 percent to 6 percent risk.

The couple petitioned Judge Kopriva on March 14, three days after a court clerk refused to marry them after learning they were first cousins.

Mrs. Amrhein has no children, and Mr. Andrews has three with other women. The couple does not plan to have more.

Mr. Andrews grew up in the South and became close to Mrs. Amrhein when he visited Pennsylvania for family gatherings when they were children.

“I started coming up here hanging out with mom’s side of the family,” he told the Altoona [Pa.] Mirror. “I didn’t seek her out. She didn’t seek me out. But all along, there was something that clicked.”

Seven years ago, the cousins met up again and have been together for several years.

“You can’t control who you fall in love with,” Mr. Andrews said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports

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