Not So Spiritual MarriageCéleste Perrino-Walker March/April 2007
For months he kept Osama bin Laden company on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. Then, on the quiet evening of August 28, 2006, Nevada State Trooper Eddie Dutchover pulled over a 2007 Cadillac Escalade on Interstate 15 north of Las Vegas during a routine traffic stop. In the back seat, his carotid artery pumping so hard it tipped off Officer Dutchover, was Uncle Warren (Jeffs), president and self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS)—which is not affiliated with the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The ordinary traffic stop ended with Jeffs' arrest, terminating a manhunt that many feared would finish in bloodshed and violence.
Jeffs is wanted in both Arizona and Utah on charges of rape as an accomplice for allegedly arranging marriages between underage teenage girls to older, married men. "A former church member says he 'spiritually married' her to an older man when she was a minor and then ordered her to submit to sex with the man or face eternal damnation." It's a charge Jeffs will have trouble denying if he wants to maintain any credibility within his religious community.
History of the FLDS
The splinter group Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not to be confused with the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from whom they broke off in 1890 over the issue of—surprise—polygamy.
Jon Krakauer, author of Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, about the extremes of religious beliefs encompassing the FLDS, estimates there are approximately 30,000 FLDS polygamists residing primarily in the American West, Canada, and Mexico. He states that some experts put the number much higher at 100,000. There are also "independent" fundamentalists not affiliated with Jeffs' official faction, an undetermined number, who also practice polygamy in the western United States, Canada, and Mexico. Of these, the most widely recognized is probably Brian David Mitchell, who abducted 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart on June 5, 2002, and "spiritually married" her in a self-styled wedding ritual attended also by his wife, Wanda Barzee, following which he raped her.
While the LDS and the FLDS share much of the same theology, FLDS differs profoundly in the following ways:
● Polygamy. Not only do men marry multiple wives, but it's not unusual for them to marry sisters or daughters of their current wives. It is also not unusual for wives to be minors—"child brides," some have dubbed them. The FLDS believe that a man should have at least three wives in order to meet the requirement for the highest tier of salvation. In addition, only a prophet—such as Jeffs—can conduct the marriages. Jeffs himself is believed to have more than 80 wives, some of whom were former wives of his late father, Rulon Jeffs.
● Dress Code. All members of the sect are required to wear a special temple garment—religious underwear—that covers them from neck to wrist and ankle at all times. Men must always wear long-sleeve shirts and pants (never shorts) no matter what the temperature. Women wear long, conservative dresses reminiscent of nineteenth-century attire. They usually wear their hair up.
● Women. "The primary responsibility of women in FLDS communities (even more than in the mainline Mormon culture) is to serve their husbands, conceive as many babies as possible, and raise those children to become obedient members of the religion."
To understand why polygamy is such an issue you must first understand that to the Mormon founders, polygamy was one of the religion's most sacred tenets, canonized as Section 132 of The Doctrine and Covenants, a primary scriptural text for the Mormons. Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, maintained that plural marriage was a covenant God commanded to be obeyed on penalty of damnation. Polygamy versus damnation—for the faithful it wasn't much of a choice. They opted for polygamy until the government stepped in.
In 1857 President James Buchanan sent the U.S. Army to Utah to wipe out polygamy in the "Utah War," but the move was ineffectual and accomplished nothing. Then, "an escalating sequence of judicial and legislative challenges to polygamy ensued, culminating in the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, which disincorporated the LDS Church and forfeited to the federal government all church property worth more than $50,000. With their feet held fast to the fire, the Saints ultimately had no choice but to renounce polygamy." They secretly continued the practice, though, into the twentieth century, but eventually rejected polygamy and even urged the government to prosecute polygamists.
Mormon fundamentalists, however, felt betrayed, believing the LDS had sold out to the American mainstream. Here is a sect that maintains its (questionable) integrity by remaining completely insular. They do not watch television or read magazines or newspapers because it is "forbidden." They dress ultraconservatively and believe that man never walked on the moon. Because they can legally marry only their first wife, the rest they wed "spiritually," and so these wives remain "single mothers" in the eyes of the law and eligible for welfare and other assistance, receiving more than $6 million a year in public funds annually (but that's another story). So, give up polygamy? Not on your food stamps they won't.
Enter Rulon T. Jeffs (Uncle Rulon), father of fugitive Warren, leader of the FLDS in Colorado City, Arizona. Krakauer wrote, "Life in Colorado City under Rulon Jeffs bears more than a passing resemblance to life in Kabul under the Taliban. Uncle Rulon's word carries the weight of law. The mayor and every other city employee answer to him, as do the entire police force and the superintendent of public schools."
And what did Uncle Rulon want? Simple. He wanted obedience. Absolute obedience. Or what? Well, if you were a man he'd take your wives and children away and give them to someone worthier. Your relatives and (former) friends would not be allowed to speak to you or the same thing would happen to them. If you're a woman you must marry whomever he told you to, no matter how old they are, no matter how old you are. And you must start bearing children immediately. As many as possible, as fast as possible. That, and you must obey your husband unquestioningly.
Uncle Rulon ruled with an iron fist until he passed away on September 8, 2002. After his death Warren Jeffs, who had been acting as his father's right-hand man, took over as president and prophet of the FLDS church, but not without trampling some high-ranking FLDS leaders and making some enemies on his way to the top. Warren Jeffs is a man who, according to one of his older brothers, "has no love for the people. His method for controlling them is to inspire fear and dread. My brother preaches that you must be perfect in your obedience. You must have the spirit twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, or you'll be cut off and go to hell. Warren's a fanatic. Everything is black and white to him."
Beginning in 2004, a string of lawsuits caused Jeffs to go into hiding to avoid prosecution. Jeffs' nephew, Brent Jeffs, was the first to file a lawsuit against him, claiming that Warren Jeffs sexually abused him as a child when he attended Alta Academy, where his uncle was principal. Brent Jeffs says he was five years old when he was pulled out of classes, taken to a bathroom, and raped repeatedly by Warren Jeffs and his brothers. Six "Lost Boys" (young men who have been sent away and excommunicated because the FLDS society doesn't need as many men as women) filed a suit alleging "the sect leader caused them economic and psychological harm by driving them out of the community."
Two women, in two separate suits, identified as M. J. and Jane Doe, both alleged Jeffs forced them into spiritual marriages with men many times older than themselves who subsequently forced them to have nonconsensual sexual intercourse. "The lawsuit stops short of specifying the rape allegation that is the basis of the criminal case. Instead, it alleges Jeffs participated in a 'calculated plan' that led to battery and sexual abuse of a child and behavior that is 'beyond all possible bounds of decency and is regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society.' The criminal charge contains more description of the then-teenager's objections to the union as well as Jeffs' alleged instructions that she submit to her husband."
Jeffs, supported by his followers, managed to stay hidden until that fateful day when Officer Dutchover pulled over the car he was traveling in. That was the beginning of the end for Jeffs, who now waits in Purgatory Correctional Facility at Purgatory Flats outside St. George, Utah, for his November trial date. Outside the media gather like buzzards to the feast. And what a feast it will be. Because while on the surface this looks like a case about polygamy, it's really a case about child rape. But in this instance child rape is tied up so intrinsically with polygamy it will take a legal surgeon with very steady hands to dissect the two.
Polygamy or Child Rape?
Polygamy, of course, is a crime in all 50 states as well as Canada. In Utah a 1935 law changed bigamy from a misdemeanor to a felony, which puts Jeffs at somewhat of a disadvantage, particularly in light of the fact that over the past several years polygamists charged in Utah with underage marriages have attempted religious liberty defenses—without success. The court ruled that "the protections enshrined in the federal constitution, as well as our state constitution, guaranteeing the free exercise of religion and conscience. . . do not shield polygamous practices from state prosecution."
Moreover, the justices determined that the government had the right to ban practices that some might consider religious (including polygamy and sex with minors) so long as the law applied across the board to all citizens and not just those who believed it was religious. Their determination will make it difficult, if not impossible, for Jeffs to mount a defense relying on religious liberty.
Perhaps even more disturbing, though, than the polygamy issue is the child abuse running rampant through the FLDS; minor girls married to older men are forced to have sex. In Bountiful, B.C., no one even disputes it. "No one in Bountiful disputes the fact that most first-time mothers who walk into this polygamous community's midwifery clinic are younger than 18," writes Daphne Bramham for the Calgary Herald. "Nobody disputes the fact that fathers are often three or four times older than the mothers. And nobody disputes that many are the 'plural wives'—or concubines—of men much older than them. After all, when it comes time to register the births, midwife Jane Blackmore says the fathers in this religious community near Creston in south-central B.C. happily sign their names on the forms that are sent to the provincial government."
In one high-profile case, Tom Green went on Dateline NBC and boasted about marrying all his wives when they were young girls. One he impregnated when she was only 13, which, according to Utah statute is a first-degree felony. Although Green was prosecuted and eventually found guilty, he received a minimum sentence. Not quite the message many Utahans (many of whom believe that these child marriages are no less than outright pedophilia) wanted to send to polygamous child rapists.
It's a vicious cycle of brainwashing, lack of contact with the outside world, conviction of religious duty, and a sad lack of education that makes polygamy and child marriages hard to change. Unless someone steps in to put a stop to it, the cycle will continue and more and more people will suffer needlessly.
The polygamy issue has made for some odd bedfellows in both the attempt to legalize bigamy and alternately to prosecute it. The FLDS believe that sodomy and homosexuality are heinous sins deserving of death, and yet in the polygamy issue they have the support of the American Civil Liberties Union and gay-rights activists who are behind their claims of religious persecution and insist on keeping the government out of the bedroom, respectively. In addition, radical feminists have joined forces with the LDS to outlaw polygamy even though the LDS is outspoken in its condemnation of feminists.
It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see how the polygamy issue, particularly with regard to minors, pushes the envelope on traditional marriage. If it's OK to marry an underage girl then why not more than one girl? And if you can have more than one marriage partner then why not marriage partners of the same sex? If you can have multiple partners of the opposite sex, why not multiple partners of the same sex? Or how about animal partners? Where does it stop?
"Living arrangements are really the most intimate kinds of decisions people make," said ACLU of Utah Legal Director Stephen Clark. "Talking to Utah's polygamists is like talking to gays and lesbians who really want the right to live their lives, and not live in fear because of whom they love. So certainly that kind of privacy expectation is something the ACLU is committed to protecting."
Beth Cooke, whose daughter Linda was the 13-year-old Tom Green married and impregnated, defended the match, though she herself had left Green. "Right now, there are lesbians, homosexuals, and single people living together all the time. There are married people living with others who they are not married to."
Yes, the polygamy issue is a battle cry taken up on many fronts, but it's not obvious to everyone. Ken Lawson, in a letter published in The Spectrum, cut to the chase: "The LDS Church is currently committed to monogamous marriage," he wrote, "but faces both the LDS Scripture-based elaboration on Jeffs' religious rights, and the support-in-principle by the same-sex marriage civil rights crowd. I'm not Mormon, but I'm on their side if they help clarify for all time the defensible principle of marriage, one man to one woman."
Meanwhile Warren Jeffs waits in Purgatory, and the media storm continues. It is still difficult to tell what the outcome will be.
Celeste perrino-Walker writes from Rutland, Vermont. She is a freelance journalist and editor of Listen magazine, a teen drug prevention journal once edited by Liberty editor Steed.
1 "Religion is no defense for polygamy, experts say," Harriet Ryan, Court TV, www.cnn.com/2006/LAW/09/08/jeffs.strategy/index.html.
2 Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer, Doubleday, New York, 2003, p. 31.
3 Ibid., pp. 6, 7.
4 Ibid., pp. 11, 12.
5 Ibid., p. 261.
6 "Jeffs Arrest Could Expedite Suits Involving FLDS Property Trust," Brooke Adams. The Salt Lake Tribune, September 3, 2006, www.religionnewsblog.com/15818/warren-jeffs-arrest-could-expedite-suits-involving-flds-
7 "Lawyer: Alleged Jeffs Rape Victim Also Is Suing Him," Brooke Adams, The Salt Lake Tribune, October 10, 2006, www.childbrides.org/news_fight_sltrib_alleged_Warren_rape_victim_also_suing_him.html.
8 "Religion is no defense for polygamy, experts say, Harriet Ryan, Court TV, www.childbrides.org/news_catch_CourtTV_religion_no_defense_for_Warren.html.
9 "Celestial' Wives Mount Earthly Defence of Polygamous Lives," Daphne Bramham, Calgary Herald, www.polygamyinfo.com/plygmedia%2004%20283calgary.htm.
10 "ACLU of Utah to Join Polygamists in Bigamy Fight," 7/16/1999, www.aclu.org/religion/frb/16163prs19990716.html.
11 Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer, Doubleday, New York, 2003, p. 22.
12 "Plural Marriage Will Be in the Spotlight," Opinion, The Spectrum, Ken Lawson, October 4, 2006, www.childbrides.org/news.html.