Religious Law

Polygamous Texas Sect Bans Underage Teen Marriages

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Updated: As parents Monday began picking up more than 400 children found to have been taken improperly from a Texas ranch run by a polygamous sect of which they are members, the religious group pledged to comply with state law concerning the age at which teenagers may marry.

Teens may marry at age 16 in Texas, with parental consent, and a spokesman for the Texas contingent of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints says the FLDS will not, from this point forward, sanction either “spiritual” unions or legal marriages of teens who are not of legal age, reports the Houston Chronicle.

“In the future, the church commits that it will not preside over any marriage of any woman under the age of legal consent in the jurisdiction in which the marriage takes place,” says Willie Jessop, himself an FLDS member.

“The church believes in purity, cleanliness and innocence, and our children and families are the cornerstone of our lives and religion,” he says. “We hope this modest clarification will alleviate recent concerns and allow this church and its families to reside in peace among its neighbors.”

As discussed in a previous post, the children are being returned under a court order to the sect’s Yearning for Zion ranch in western Texas. However, parallel investigations by child protective services officials and criminal authorities continue concerning alleged sexual abuse of teenage girls pressured into “spiritual” marriages with much older men.

Specific allegations of child abuse will continue to be pursued, state officials have repeatedly said. At least one teenage girl, now 16, has claimed that she was sexually abused, and for that reason is being released only on the condition that her mother stay in the San Antonio area and not return to the ranch with her daughter, reports the Dallas Morning News.

The unnamed teen is reportedly a daughter of Warren Jeffs, the imprisoned prophet of the FLDS. He is being criminally investigated concerning possible personal involvement in marriages with underage teens.

Updated at 1:38 p.m. Wednesday, June 4, to clarify the conditions of the 16-year-old girl’s release.

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