Parents' Rights Trump Polygamy

Posted: Jun 05, 2008 12:01 AM
Parents' Rights Trump Polygamy

I never thought you'd hear me say this, but: Thank God for the ACLU, which defended the Texas polygamist mothers.

A Texas district court judge, Barbara Walther, ordered that the more than 400 kids swept away by the state government be returned to their parents' care immediately. (Then she signed an emergency order keeping back one teenage girl who the state claimed was being sexually abused.)

Walther's order requires the parents to stay in Texas, and to allow the children to be examined for signs of abuse. They are also required to attend parenting classes.

The sect meanwhile made a public promise: "In the future, the church commits that it will not preside over any marriage of any woman under the age of legal consent," said Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints spokesman Willie Jessop.

The Texas polygamy case prompted a wide variety of public reactions. As someone who is about as opposed to polygamy as it is possible to be, my first reaction was: How can the government take small children away from their mothers?

The right of a mother to the care and custody of her children (and vice versa) can (or should) be abrogated only when it is necessary to protect the child from some kind of immediate danger.

If the government had swept all the 13-year-old girls into custody, the action would at least have had some relationship to an imminent danger -- that they would be sexually abused by older men under the guise of "spiritual marriage." But no one ever claimed the 4-year-olds were in imminent danger of anything. What right did the government have to take away these kids?

My second, contradictory reaction was: Why do we care so little about sexualizing girls who are not on polygamous ranches? Texas officials justified their actions by releasing creepy photos showing older men on the ranch with early teen girls, and by demonstrating that a large proportion of the teenage girls had been pregnant.

But more than half of 15- to 19-year-old Hispanic girls in this country have been pregnant. Is anyone upset enough about that fact to move decisively to protect them from early sexualization? For those girls the answer is: Ship them more condoms and have more teachers demonstrate to them how to be sexualized at lower government cost (because babies cost real money).

If the FLDS sect down there in Texas specialized in sexually connecting 16-year-old boys to 16-year-old girls (or, for that matter, boys), there would be nothing in Texas law, or the rest of the American culture, that would give anyone pause. They would fit right in.

That's what made this Texas case so confusing to me and to others. Yes, we have polygamists in this country, and we don't want to encourage polygamy in this country. Plus, polygamy is so fundamentally unattractive to women it is very hard to sustain without isolating young girls (and forbidding them access to divorce). So crackdown on those bad guys!

But we also don't want to encourage the government to think it gets to decide, based on almost no evidence at all, when parents are allowed to care for our own children.

Meanwhile, we have a culture so sexually debased that if these weird, pseudo-Mormon heretics hadn't called it polygamy -- and had also waited until the girls turned 16 to hook them up -- nobody might've even noticed.