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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Our big, fat, polygamous family

Three years ago Texas authorities caused a sensation in the United States with a raid on the polygamous Mormon sect living at Yearning For Zion Ranch, during which 401 children were taken into state custody. The pretext for the crackdown was not so much polygamy, although it is a crime in Texas, but forced sex with under-age girls taken as wives by older men. In other words, the wellbeing of children was the main issue.

Community leader Warren Jeffs, already in trouble before the raid, is currently in jail on trial in Texas on sexual assault and bigamy charges. If he sits tight a bit longer, though, the bigamy charge may collapse; with same-sex marriage apparently in the bag, polygamy is looking like the next big thing in the United States -- and no-one seems to care what happens to the kids.

While Jeffs has been cooling his heels in clink, television networks have promoted his cause by rolling out shows such as Big Love and Sister Wives. The Browns of Sister Wives, all four of them, have talked about how happy they are with their choice and how well adjusted their 16 children are, and how the children are carefully educated about choice and consequences, and how there are no underage or arranged marriages. Fictional versions of the lifestyle add to the gloss by leaving out what one script writer calls the “yuck factor”.

Now that the small screen has demystified and sentimentalized polygamy it is the turn of professors and judges to legitimize it. And what better time to do so than in the wake of the latest green light for same-sex marriage? Straight after New York conferred the right to marry on homosexuals, Ralph Richard Banks, a Stanford law school professor predicted that polygamy and incest must now be legalized: “Over time, our moral assessments of these practices will shift, just as they have with interracial marriage and same sex marriage.”

Right on cue, in mid-July, the patriarch of the Brown family, Kody Brown, filed a challenge to Utah’s law against polygamy. His lead counsel, Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, wrote in the New York Times that the suit is based not on any analogy with same-sex marriage but on the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, that states could not use the criminal code against what two consenting adults -- in that case, homosexuals -- do in private. Privacy is the issue, he insists, not what society finds acceptable.

However, if it comes to acceptability, Turley has an answer ready for critics: society already accepts other kinds of plural relationships. He says: “It is widely accepted that a person can have multiple partners and have children with such partners. But the minute that person expresses a spiritual commitment and ‘cohabits’ with those partners, it is considered a crime.”

We are going to hear this argument a lot more in the new battle for the rights of polygamists. It has been used also by another law professor, Adrienne D. Davis of Washington University at St Louis, in a 92-page article in the Columbia Law Review of December 2010. With interesting timing, the university sent out a press release about the article earlier this month.

But Davis, like Turley, prefers not to hitch her wagon to the same-sex marriage star. She says it’s a red herring in the polygamy debate since same-sex marriage is concerned with the couple relationship and polygamy with plural relationships. In fact she is not really interested in marriage at all (“I am no particular fan of the institution of marriage”); a power feminist, she talks, rather, of “intimate relationships” and rules for “bargaining for equality” within them.

Polygamy, with its “multiple partners, ongoing entrances and exits, and life-defining economic and personal stakes”, presents a special challenge in this regard, one which family law could hardly cope with, Davis admits. But, no problem; it turns out that commercial partnership law has a “robust set of off-the-rack rules” that could be adapted to arbitrate the disputes of polygamists. If the power relationships can be regulated -- and she believes they can (lots of work for lawyers there) -- there would be no reason to withhold social recognition from polygamy.

In social revolutions like this numbers are always useful: a million backstreet abortions; tens of thousands of gay couples already enjoying family bliss but without the blessing of marriage; and now, “50,000 to 100,000” polygamists minding their own business but persecuted for merely moral reasons. (A recent Gallup poll shows that 86 per cent of Americans consider polygamy immoral.) The implication is that what so many people are doing, with little evident harm, must really be harmless.

Many feminists, it’s true, are unhappy about the subjugation of women in communities like Yearning For Zion. Then there’s the problem of young girls becoming extra wives, and there have been disturbing stories about what happens to “spare” boys once they reach puberty. Some, simply expelled from their compounds, have been found living rough around rural towns in Utah and Arizona.

Which brings us to the central question about polygamy, or any other variation on the married mother and father family: what about the kids? Is this form of adult intimacy good for them?  One can almost hear Professor Davis sigh as she reluctantly addresses this issue in a section of her essay headed “Children and Other ‘Externalities’…”. “Part of me wants to radically resist the notion that intimacy cannot be theorized without attention to children,” she protests.

Still, she does take a sideways glance at the children and comes up with the same argument as Turley: we already have de facto polygamy, in both the unmarried (single mothers and nomadic fathers) form and the married (divorced and remarried parents) or serial form, and family law accommodates those. Not only that, but the law is developing norms to deal with claims arising from other multi-parent situations: open adoption, grandparents raising children, and “reprotech families” formed by both heterosexual and same-sex couples using donor gametes and surrogate mothers. Why not add polygamy to the “marriage pantheon”?

Well, yes, marital culture is in a mess, but we know that the absence or divided affections of fathers resulting from transient partnerships and divorce create serious risks for children and much actual misery. And we have some idea from the grown children of donor daddies of the problems being generated by the reprotech variants of family life. So, again, what about the kids? Why expand the opportunities to generate emotional and economic problems for them?

All Davis will say is that it is “unclear that polygamy generates more costs for children than the standard alternatives” (to a married mother and father). That’s it: like, “Since when did we start worrying about children?”

She does have a point (I have made it myself), although it is slightly chilling that a woman, in particular, would make it with such detachment. Adults do already make a lot of trouble for their children. But these are pathologies we should be trying to fix, not spread more widely by recognizing another pathway to family chaos on the basis that “it can’t be any worse” than the others. It may be true that the case for social recognition, or at least tolerance, of polygamy is different to the case for same-sex marriage and the claim to same-sex parenthood that goes with it. But they have one thing in common: they both find their place in a decaying marriage/sexual culture where adult desires increasingly trump the needs and rights of children.

Three years after the Yearning For Zion raid, is the welfare of children no longer an issue in the adult scramble for sexual rights?

(Source: Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet. She appears here courtesy of MercatorNet.com   http://www.speroforum.com/)


  1. I dunno I think Jeff's tape might make people rethink about the children. The children seem more like property than the women. Anyhow Jeff's went to Jury. I wonder how long it will take until they come back with a verdict!

  2. Hey anonymous,
    When did the jury go out? There are myths and lore surrounding long vs. short deliberation times and it would be interesting to see if that plays out in this case.

    Jury Lore:
    Long deliberation = acquittal
    Short deliberation = jury has made up its mind , could be either guilty or not guilty (depends on facts of case)

  3. Oh maybe 2:30 - 3ish. I wonder, even if they had a quick decision, if they would not take a bit to mull it over due to it being a high profile case. I was thinking we would hear back today but its late in the afternoon, so probably early tomorrow we will know.

    TY for the legal lore!

    This article just came in and SWBlog might find it interesting , too:

    FLDS Coalition has OUSTED the might Jeff's. Now if they can choose to boot him AFTER he is in trouble, how come they can't boot these false prophets/ their groups at the first sign of hanky-panky?

    Sounds like Robyn is caught in yet another lie, as well! For the AUB to be part of a coalition that has to out Warren and make a statement , they have to have some kind of association. It seems Robyn and the Brown's should have been honest about their connections and then denounced it all immediately.

    Instead, Robro keeps saying they have no relation to FLDS - the poly group nor the religion - and her fib on the AUB, too - just looks bad for her and the Brown family imo.


    ".....An accompanying statement by the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB) said they were “shocked and horrified” by what has been revealed during Jeffs’ trial.

    “While we share common religious origins and history with the FLDS, we are and have been keenly aware of many of Warren Jeffs’ radical religious deviations and abuses of power under the false pretense of priesthood authority,” the AUB release says.

    ”We repudiate and denounce Warren Jeffs’ inappropriate actions in linking his despicable and unconscionable acts to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to Joseph Smith Jr. and Mormonism,” the statement continues. “Such acts and so-called ordinances are not and never have been condoned by the Gospel as it was established and restored by Joseph Smith.”

  4. I wonder about this group of five does anyone have any information on which churches are in the coalition. None of the article reference other than FLDS and AUB?

    I wonder when the group was founded etc.

  5. hmm quick quick!

    G U I L T Y!

    Updated less than five mins ago reporting that Jeff's was found guilty two accounts child bride rape


  6. Salt Lake Tribune:

    First published 7 hours ago
    Updated 7 minutes ago
    San Angelo, Texas • A jury has convicted polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs of sexually abusing two girls, ages 12 and 15, whom he took as plural wives.

    The West Texas jury of 10 women and two men deliberated about 3 1/2 hours before finding the 55-year-old man guilty of one count each of sexual abuse of a child and aggravated sexual abuse of a child.

    Jeffs rose to hear the verdict, stared directly at District Judge Barbara Walther, then sat back down.

    The same jury that convicted him will now decide his punishment, which could be imprisonment for up to life.

    That penalty phase of the trial was to begin after a short break.

    The verdict followed some bizarre behavior by Jeffs —the self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — during his chance to present a closing argument.

    During the 30 minutes allotted to him, Jeffs — who has been acting as his own attorney — stood silent for all but the final minutes, when he muttered some barely audible words, then sat down.

    Emily Detoto, one of Jeffs’ former attorneys, confirmed the one-sentence closing statement was, "I am at peace."

  7. Terrasola! (love, love, love the name btw!)

    "That penalty phase of the trial was to begin after a short break."

    Wanna take a shot at the punishment?

    Do you think he will get life? I am thinking he will I wish I knew the other options the jury is being presented. Those graphic tapes are hard to ignore!

    Think we will hear today or tomorrow?

  8. They have to listen to a handful of state witnesses and they are going to pull in some for defense testimonies , too in hope of a lighter sentencing.

    I wonder how long it will take and how long 'til sentencing is handed out!

    We are going to get out socks blown off according to the news we are going to get to hear more of the evidence that would be relevant to the decision during the sentencing phase and especially because the jury asked for a cd player to listen to four tapes and transcripts from Rebbeca Musser! Punishment phase sounds like a hair raiser!

  9. The Jury is mulling over evidence until eight pm tonight. It may go into late tomorrow but they think sentencing will be handed out much earlier tomorrow. The jurors get access to far more evidence.

    Former FLDS member Andrew Chatwin is commenting saying Jeff's can't afford to have his followers hear all of what he has done. No word on new leader - new prophet yet. Warren may be able to continue to run his religion from state prison, too they said. Warren is guilty of sex assault with minors nothing with his religion so his followers may stand by him.

  10. We need the insession video of Andrew Chatwin he said FLDS is not only a religious cult but a mafia , criminal cult. He spilled that the PD was protecting Warren while he was on the run etc. someone caught with a letter swearing allegiance to Jeff's and it looks like Warren is now the persecuted martyr the FLDS long to have. His conviction might just elevate him to his followers.

    Unbelievable. I so hope Warren's followers see him for the abusing criminal, child sex predator he is.

    Evidence used during sentencing looks promising as far as exposing more child brides. The State of Texas promises that any evidence that leads to other polygamist committing crimes will be followed up on. Also, there are more from Jeff's ranch awaiting trial. 8 Convictions so far.

    Hopefully the ranch will see him as a child sex assaulter, because he is! I can't imagine him reaching martyr status and still ruling from state prison! Awful!

  11. PRC is the Steering Committee for Principle Voices. I notice the exception of FLDS is on their 'about' page. But who are they, the select five, that make up the coalition. AUB and Centennial and?


    Our steering committee, the Principle Rights Coalition, consists of representives from each of the major fundamentalist communities (except FLDS) as well as independents.

  12. How did a Musser - AUB end up married to an FLDS Jeff's? I just realized the name and why it was familiar! Family tree anyone?



    wonder what all this will mean for Warren and his Followers who knows what tomorrows sentencing will bring. I keep thinking on the koolaid comments anyhoo that's it for my lazy day off!

  13. I learn more from these comments! I haven't done Jeffs gen. we should look into it!

  14. MisterSister! We should! I know the Bounty folks have theirs documented in pdf and on video. I bet if we search and dig we can find Warren's.

    I did find this on Ancestry. It has from England to here. Not much, but maybe enough to get some good diggers started? I will keep poking around, too. I get the feeling, we would find some good connections between these groups.


  15. "We need the insession video of Andrew Chatwin he said FLDS is not only a religious cult but a mafia , criminal cult. He spilled that the PD was protecting Warren while he was on the run etc. someone caught with a letter swearing allegiance to Jeff's and it looks like Warren is now the persecuted martyr the FLDS long to have. His conviction might just elevate him to his followers. "
    Where could I find this?

    Annony- I will TRY to get to Jeff's genealogy!

  16. I'm not sure Mistersister. I went to the CNN site and they have clips and updates but I could not find today.s clips for the life of me. I will put it on in the a.m. and post if I hear anything worth sharing ok. Thanks for all you do!

    ps maybe andrew has his own site now that he fled polygamy? will poke around if noone else can find anything. He sure sounds very, very informed on all kinds of criminal activity. I am wondering what new evidence the jury will get to see for sentencing. Sickly, the news sites have listed several more child brides and child sex cases as a huge possibility!

  17. That would help, I feel like I'm working on 10 things at once!LOL
    PLEASE EMAIL it to me if you find it, so I can put it up as a POST!!!
    THANK YOU! I'm so glad your addicted, all the comments is what makes this site!

  18. was interested to read the article "Fundamentalist Coalition Denounces Jeff's, Child sex abuse." Even more interesting were the results of my own research to discover exactly which polygamist groups comprised this "coalition." Among the names AUB, Neilsen-Naylor, Centennial Park, and 'Independents' I discovered the "Davis County Cooperative Society." For those unfamiliar with this name, memory may be jogged by one of its aliases - the "Kingston Group." Yes, the innocent and horrified polygamists distancing themselves from the crimes of Warren Jeffs and the FLDS, are actually allied with a group that routinely practices incest by "sealing" young girls to blood relatives, and have been known for violent acts such as belt whipping a non compliant girl.

    Sorry, but protestations of AUB being "shocked and horrified" just don't entirely convince me in the light of this nasty alliance.

    Follow these links for the evidence

  19. Thank you for these links. Yes, most of us didn't know a thing about polygamy until the show, so we need to learn all we can, and I am suprised to see that group on there! They will all get political savvy now- they had gooten lazy, because with no law enforcment, there was no need to worry.