Constitutional Law

Texas Changed Marriage Age to Restrict Rights of Polygamy Ranch Residents

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Much has been written, in recent weeks, about the number of teen girls entering into “spiritual” underage marriages at a Texas ranch from which some 462 children were removed last month.

However, it was not until the fringe religious group that operates the ranch, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, moved to Texas that legislators adopted a law that made marriages of teens under age 16 illegal, Reuters reports.

“There was suspicion, speculation and concern and we knew they were the most obedient followers of Warren Jeffs and people were alarmed,” says Harvey Hilderbran, a state legislator who represents the area in which the Yearning for Zion ranch is located. He was the sponsor of a bill that became law in 2005 that raised the age at which children can marry, if their parents consent, from age 14 to age 16.

Jeffs, as discussed in earlier posts and an ABA Journal cover story last year, is the imprisoned leader of the FLDS church.

The raid of the ranch and removal of the children last month by Texas authorities has been controversial. Although there is apparently legitimate concern about child abuse (underage pregnancies among the girls and broken bones among the boys have been reported), there is also concern that the raid may have been too sweeping and that the process of removing the children may have violated parents’ constitutional rights.

And, as other coverage indicates, it appears that authorities at least arguably may have targeted the FLDS for more stringent enforcement of violations of the law that are routinely overlooked in other settings.

At last report, a Texas appellate court had refused to intervene on an emergency basis in the removal of the children, and it appears that the case is now likely to be litigated in the courts for some time to come.

Other coverage:

Deseret News: “Feds are stymied in probes of FLDS”

Full Comment (National Post): “Jacob Brinkman Reaume on polygamy: We’re lost in the fog of a moral disaster”

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