Civil Liberties

FLDS Parents Get Their Kids Back; Church 'Clarifies' Its Marriage Policy

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Yesterday the state of Texas began to allow members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) to recover the children who were illegally seized from the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado on April 3. CNN reports that all 468 of the children will be returned except for a 16-year-old girl who, according to her attorney, was an "identified victim of sexual abuse." Speaking of which, yesterday the FLDS Church issued a statement in which it promised to abide by state laws that set a minimum age for marriage:

    * The church's policies regarding marriage have been widely misrepresented and misunderstood. Indeed, much of the misinformation circulating on this subject seems designed intentionally to fuel the flames of prejudice against the church.
    * The church's practices in this regard continue a long tradition of marriage in this country that would have been found to have been unremarkable in 19th century America. In the FLDS church all marriages are consensual. The church insists on appropriate consent, including that of the woman and the man in all circumstances.
    * Nevertheless the church is clarifying its policy toward marriage. Therefore, in the future, the church commits that it will not preside over the marriage of any woman under the age of legal consent in the jurisdiction in which the marriage takes place. The church will counsel families that they neither request nor consent to underage marriages. This policy will apply church-wide.
    * The church believes in purity, cleanliness, and innocence. Our children and families are the cornerstones of our lives and our religion. We hope that this modest clarification in policy will alleviate recent concerns and allow the church and its families to reside in peace among our neighbors.

That sounds like an implicit acknowledgement that FLDS members have not always obeyed state law in this area. When the church says "all marriages are consensual," it does not necessarily mean that the state, which has decreed that girls below a certain age are incapable of giving proper consent, would recognize them as such. At the same time, the church is probably right that its early marriage practices "would have been found to have been unremarkable in 19th century America." In fact, until just a few years ago the minimum age for marriage with parental consent in Texas was 14; the state legislature raised it to 16 in response to concerns about the FLDS presence in Texas.

I don't mean to imply that there should be no minimum or that the state should not enforce it. But it's important to recognize there is a degree of arbitrariness in drawing these lines, especially when animus against a particular religious group seems to be part of the motivation. Lord knows I don't want my 15-year-old daughter to get married, and it's hard for me to sympathize with a father who does. But arranging a match between a girl of that age and a guy in his late teens or early 20s is different from marrying a 13-year-old to a middle-aged man, and both of those are different from "pedophilia," which is how some of the church's harsher critics have described its customs.

The order returning the FLDS children, issued by the same judge who (according to the Texas Supreme Court) erroneously approved their removal, requires their parents to permit unannounced visits by state caseworkers, which "could entail medical, psychological and psychiatric examinations"; to remain in Texas and notify the states of any trips more than 100 miles from home at least 48 hours ahead of time; and to complete "parenting classes." Since the state still has not presented any specific evidence of abuse in the vast majority of these cases, these conditions seem unjustified to me, and the last one is especially insulting. Is there any reason to believe FLDS members lack basic parenting skills, or is it just that state officials don't approve of their religious beliefs?

Previous reason coverage of this story (in chronological order) hereherehere, herehere, here, and here.

Clarification: As a couple of commenters have noted, the real issue here is (or ought to be) the age of consent for sex. That gets conflated with the minimum age for marriage because having sex with your wife does not constitute statutory rape, no matter how much younger she is, as long as she was old enough to marry with parental consent (and in fact had that consent).

[Thanks to Tracy Cooper for the tip.]

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  1. Why should there be a state-enforced minimum for marriage? There shouldn’t even be a state definition of marriage.

  2. What I don’t understand is how there can be any conditions on the return of children that were found to have been illegally taken. What is stopping the judge from putting requirements that are physically impossible on the parents before the children are returned?

  3. But arranging a match between a girl of that age and a guy in his late teens or early 20s is different from marrying a 13-year-old to a middle-aged man…

    Any underlying principle you can point to?

  4. So if they decide to defy the stay in Texas order & just get into buses & ride off for Colorado are we going to be treated to the spectacle of Texas Rangers shooting out the tires of buses filled with kids?

  5. Let me clarify. Of course it’s “different.” It’s different by definition. But why should the law should treat them differently?

  6. So the state is imposing house arrest on them without any charges having been filed.
    That doesn’t make me feel a whole lot safer from the courts ruling against the Rangers.

  7. “Any underlying principle you can point to?”

    (age/2)+7, the standard creepiness rule

    http://xkcd.com/314/

  8. What do they teach in state mandated “parenting classes”?

  9. That sounds like an implicit acknowledgement that FLDS members have not always obeyed state law in this area.

    How would they have violated it? Doesn’t the law relate to marriage certificates and not religious ceremonies? Since when are marriage ceremonies subject to legal oversight?

  10. “How would they have violated it? Doesn’t the law relate to marriage certificates and not religious ceremonies? Since when are marriage ceremonies subject to legal oversight?”

    They’re not. The real legal issue is age of consent for sex. It’s just been conflated with the marriage issue because having a marriage ceremony with a 14-year old seems to imply you think the marriage should be consummated.

  11. I find FLDS chilod rearing practices (that includes religious indoctrination) disgusting, deplorable and downright fucking weird. I don’t find them illegal. Apparently the state of Texas doesn’t either.

    All of these provisions/requirements reek of religious persecution.

  12. Where are those impregnated 14-15 year old brides we were led to believe existed?

  13. The real legal issue is age of consent for sex.

    The way Jacob’s statement reads, it doesn’t appear that he’s simply referencing statutory rape.

  14. But arranging a match between a girl of that age and a guy in his late teens or early 20s is different from marrying a 13-year-old to a middle-aged man

    Only in degree. “Arranged” marriage is still deplorable. Are we to believe that all of these kids are consenting to these marriages? I sure don’t.

    All of these provisions/requirements reek of religious persecution.

    They do – yet every time this story comes up I thank my lucky stars I wasn’t born in that compound.

  15. Rhywun, I would imagine this is a similar kind of consent that Muslim women in countries like Saudi Arabia insist they are giving. Of course it’s not oppression; they’ve been raised to want that kind of life.

  16. So, after winning a ruling from the Texas Supreme Court stating that they are not bad parents and to give the kids back, they give the kids back only on the condition that they basically go on probation and take classes for bad parents?

    Innocent until proven guilty indeed…

  17. I agree with J ssub D on both points. The entire case is based on a hoax, and yet these people are still being denied basic protections under the law.

  18. The FLDS parents probably agreed to the judge’s terms simply to get the kids back quickly. I fully expect that once the children are back at home – the FLDS attorneys will tell the court to pound salt.

  19. billhilly | June 3, 2008, 4:57pm | #
    What do they teach in state mandated “parenting classes”?

    People, you need to refrigerate your milk. I can’t stress that enough. If you don’t have a refrigerator, keep your milk in a cool, wet sack.

  20. “What do they teach in state mandated ‘parenting classes’?”

    Since this is Texas, they ought to get classes in

    -teaching your kids to handle firearms – if they can’t disassemble and reassemble a bazooka by age 10, you’re guilty of neglect.

    -you’re role models, and kids are always learning from your actions. So always use spitoons properly, so the kids won’t get their tobacco juice all over the floor.

    -Protect your kids from skin cancer by always having them wear their ten-gallon hats when they go out in the sun.

    Of course, the social workers will probably get all wimpy and teach stuff like:

    – Put padding on all sharp corners.

    – Don’t let your teenage kids get married – teach them how to have safe extramarital sex.

  21. It strikes me the FLDS members have behaved in a an exemplary manner through their entire ordeal.

    I also do not understand how someone who is not charged with a crime can be saddled with these conditions. Perhaps the State will require all FLDS members to wear a yellow star next.

  22. I’m thinking the next round of litigation that the state of Texas will lose will be over these conditions that have been imposed. IIRC, the Texas Supremes’ decision noted that some conditions can be imposed, but that doesn’t mean that the State has established sufficient grounds to impose these conditions given the lack of evidence for any individual cases, or considering the clusterfuck of lack of probable cause that led to the removal in the first place.

    This ain’t over yet.

  23. Safer* extramarital sex! Ye Gods!

  24. But arranging a match between a girl of that age and a guy in his late teens or early 20s is different from marrying a 13-year-old to a middle-aged man, and both of those are different from “pedophilia,” which is how some of the church’s harsher critics have described its customs.

    In 21st Century America, ‘pedophilia’ is defined as any man over the age of 18 years, 1 day being attracted to any female below the age of 17 years, 364 days. It’s utterly preposterous. Not to mention ignorant. Oh, and it gives the prudes inordinate power to condemn and attack, which they use maliciously and without a second thought.

    ‘Pedophilia’ is thoughtcrime.

  25. I’m thinking the next round of litigation that the state of Texas will lose will be over these conditions that have been imposed.

    I was very skeptical that the supreme court ruling was a victory. This is just setting the parents up to fail. See, now if the parent fail to do these fucktard parent ed classes, or any other of that litany of shit they have to do, then they will be in violation of the court order that could then be used as a basis for future removal.

    Judges really are useless pieces of shit.

  26. This just sickens me that these children are living in this environment.

    I just can’t help but have thought that there are dirty old men using religion as an excuse to have sex with young girls. While this may or may not be the case, the thought of 13 or 15 year old girls having arranged marriages disgusts me.

  27. Talk about the law of unintended consequences!!!!

    This FLDS event looks to have far reaching consequences not even contemplated by the Nazi Party members in Texas.

    1. The feminist liars who claim they care about women and children have been exposed as phoneys and hypocrites. This is good. Everyone with a brain noticed that they did not raise one finger to help those children and mothers. They hate men and want to destroy the dreaded patriarchy. They wouldn’t have cared if every one of those kids was killed … just so long as the kids never went back under the patriarcy.

    2. The Attorney General of Utah has been outed as a secret Nazi Party member. This little episode of religious persecution may just end his career and turn his dreams of succeeding Orrin Hatch as US senator to dust. Good riddance I say.

    3. The ACLU…yeah…the good old ACLU would not lift a finger. Yeah..yeah … I know, they ultimately filed one amicus brief after they were shamed into it…but once again everyone with a brain knows the ACLU abandoned those kids in their time of need. Feminst agenda issues at play no doubt.

    4. Interest in plural marriage has probably never been higher among the goyim. The FLDS women look like angels with their beautful long hair and long dresses (no make up, no high heels, no low back tattoos-nice!!!) the children are beautiful…and these people pray…every day..and the lord perhaps answered their prayers. This is a big boost for christian religion and monotheism.

    5. States may well overhaul child welfare laws to prevent such abuse.

    6. The feminst lesbian cult which runs CPS offices nation wide has been exposed.

    7. Good American people have come to the painful realization that our nation has been perverted by those entrusted to do right. But they don’t do right. they are wicked and evil and serve the devil in countless ways.

    Long live the resistance!!!

  28. The thing that got me about this story is that everything from the raid on has been shown to be illegal. Yet even though that is true the judge is now making them jump through hoops to get their kidnapped children back, unless the parents agree to the conditions they can’t get their children back. To me this just makes no sense at all. If the raid is illegal then they should get their children back with no reservations, just as for any other crime in which the defendant has been deemed innocent.

  29. I knew two couples that got married when the bride was under 16 and the groom was just 16 or a little older. Both of them were happily married 20+ years later.

    I realize this isn’t a scientific study, but it does seem weird that the only people I know to get married in their teens actually had functional marriages whereas only 50% of adults seem to get it right.

  30. That’s me, on your left.

    All I see in that picture on the left is an old guy and a funny hat. Funny hats, while essential to religion, are an not underlying principle.

  31. The FLDS parents probably agreed to the judge’s terms simply to get the kids back quickly.

    Exactly. Last Friday, when the order was first proposed, it was rejected by the parents. They had the option of sending it back up the appellate chain, but decided they didn’t want to have to wait another month or six to get their kids back.

    I fully expect that once the children are back at home – the FLDS attorneys will tell the court to pound salt.

    I’m thinking the next round of litigation that the state of Texas will lose will be over these conditions that have been imposed.

    I seriously doubt it. The order was “negotiated” and “agreed” to by the FLDS parents. Of course, they were negotiating with people holding their kids hostage, but the state courts are not going to invalidate a “consensual” order.

  32. a religious marriage and consummation of that marriage do not necessarily have to be coincident.

    They probably are, in some (many? most? I have no idea) cases, but surely not all.

    When Mohammed married Aisha, she was 9, I think, but they didn’t consummate the marriage until she was 14 – or so I’ve been given to understand. For that day and age, 14 was perfectly reasonable.

    I dunno. A part of me is squicked out, but that isn’t enough to justify the kidnapping of hundreds of children, nor does it justify holding the parents hostage with this conditional return of their children. Maybe it’s my motherbear instinct talking, but the very thought of someone taking my children from me, or making me jump through hoops and remain confined to keep them makes me positively homicidal.

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