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June 4, 2008
Column #1,397
Should Polygamy Be Legalized?
By Mike McManus

Polygamy is in the news, again. State authorities raided the Yearning for Zion (YFZ) compound after a 16-year-old called police reporting that she was forced to marry an older man against her will. Subsequently, more than 400 children were sent into foster homes.

A lawsuit was filed. The children returned after two months. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) issued a statement that "the church commits that it will not preside over the marriage of any woman under the age of legal consent in the jurisdictions in which the marriage will take place. The church will counsel families that they neither request nor consent to any underage marriages."

However, the fundamental question remains unanswered.  Should FDLS be allowed to continue practicing polygamy? It's against the law in every state.

Sexual standards have been relaxed in recent years.  Sodomy and cohabitation used to be against the law.  Two states legalized same-sex marriages - Massachusetts and California. 

However, polygamy is altogether a different case. First, there is ample evidence that underage girls were pressured to marry much older men.  That's a crime called statutory rape. In November, Warren Jeffs, who had been on the FBI's "Ten Most-Wanted List," was convicted of two counts of being an accomplice to rape and was sentenced to ten years to life in prison. He was guilty of forcing an underage girl to marry him against her will.

Jeffs called himself an FLDS "prophet" who taught that a man having multiple wives is ordained by God and that polygamy is required for a man to receive the highest form of salvation.  Warren Jeffs may have 60 wives. This week the Texas Attorney General carried out a search warrant to obtain Jeffs' DNA   The warrant said Jeffs had married four young girls in Texas and Utah, two of whom were only 12 years old. Additional charges may be filed.

A 16-year-old daughter of Jeffs, who said she was sexually abused, was given legal protection this week by a district court judge who barred any contact between her and her father and another man, Raymond Jessop.

Carolyn Jessop, wrote "Escape," a best seller about her harrowing escape from the YFZ ranch. She married at 17, "assigned to a man 32 years older," named Merrill Jessop, a relative of Raymond Jessop. They had eight children. She recalls, "The indoctrination starts at an early age. We were given no other information. I had no ability to see life as it really is. We were told,`The only reason you are unhappy is that you have not prayed enough.' This is the only way to God."

"As I watched my daughters grow up, I saw they were going down the same path. I became motivated to do something different. The community involves 10,000 people, who are all members of the FLDS.  There is no one you can go to for help." 

However, her brother lived in Salt Lake City.  She called him and begged him to drive hundreds of miles to a spot three miles from YFZ ranch. She got her kids up at 4 a.m., put them in a van and drove there, but woke up YFZ leaders in the process. They could easily trace the family, who were in such danger the Utah Attorney General issued a protective order. She is the only mother to have escaped with her children.

There's another horrific aspect..The other victims FLDS polygamy are young boys.  When they reach age 12-14, they are expelled from YFZ, so girls would not be tempted to have relationships with them that could lead to normal marriage, rather than with older men.  Thus, hundreds of these "lost boys" are living on streets.

When Mormons claimed a First Amendment right in Utah to practice polygamy 125 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected that claim, and threatened to dissolve the Mormon Church if it persisted. For 20 centuries the common law defined marriage as monogamous, and the Court said to change those rules "would be a return to barbarism."

Emory Law Professor John Witte writes: "Religious liberty can never become a license to violate general criminal laws, lest chaos ensue. Part of the argument is sociological: Monogamous marriage "is the cornerstone of civilization," said the Supreme Court. Most Mormons accepted that decision, which was essential for Utah to become a state.

However, FLDS broke off from the main church. Today there are 30,000 polygamous Mormon marriages and thousands of Muslim ones. 

It is time to enforce laws against polygamy, as we do against incest.

Both destroy families.

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