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article imageUtah, Arizona officials try to reassure polygamists and defend Texas' actions

By Susan Duclos     May 9, 2008 in Lifestyle
Utah and Arizona officials tried to reassure polygamists at a townhall meeting that they would not be raiding their homes for polygamy if no other crimes were being committed. They also defended Texas' actions in removing 463 children from the YFZ Ranch.
Not only is Senate Majority leader Harry Reid saying he is a "cheerleader for what Texas is doing", and that "Texas is doing what Utah and Arizona should have done decades ago", as well as encouraging federal authorities to start investigating underage marriages within the FLDS sects scattered across the country, but Utah and Arizona officials are also defending the actions in Texas at the same time as trying to reassure polygamists that they will not "go after" them for polygamy alone.
The actions they are defending is Texas' removal of 463 children from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) compound in Eldorado Texas, called the Yearning For Zion Ranch, after going there to investigate an allegation of abuse and witnessing other evidence of abuses, via underage girls being pregnant or already having children.
Child Protective Services immediately got permission to remove all the children, pending investigations about sexual abuse perpetrated on minor females by older men with full knowledge of the mothers.
After a two day hearing, a judge gave 60 day day temporary custody of all the children to the state of Texas until family ties could be established and further investigating could be done into the abuses CPS witnessed.
Status hearings for all the children must be held by June 5, 2008.
At a polygamy town hall meeting attended by more than 600 people in the Dixie Center yesterday, which included the Arizona's Attorney General, Terry Goddard and Utah's Attorney General, Mark Shurtleff, they sought to reassure the polygamists that were gathered that they had no intention of raiding their homes without evidence of other crimes than being part of the lifestyle of polygamy.
As a quick side note, Mark Shurtleff was helpful in convincing Texas state legislators to strengthen their laws when the FLDS group first moved to Eldorado Texas.
Shurtleff's statement to the Texas legislator was clear and blunt, when told them, "Imagine a community run as a theocracy, where women are considered nothing but property, where women have two purposes -- to please their man sexually and have children."
The Texas legislators took his advice and made major changes to their laws against polygamy and underage marriage.
The specific laws in that bill that apply to the polygamist FLDS sect.
Prohibits marriage of people younger than 16. Requires parental consent of people 16-17;
Prohibits marriage between current and former stepchildren and stepparents;
Provides for felony prosecution of parents who allow children younger than 16 to marry;
Allows for prosecution of people who perform wedding ceremonies for people younger than 16;
Prohibits people from being in a common-law marriage if they are already married;
Makes having sex with first cousins a second-degree felony, while other forms of incest may be considered third-degree felonies;
Voids marriages in which one of the parties is underage, meaning that sexual acts committed during those marriages can be considered felonies.
Back to yesterdays meeting.
Although Utah and Arizona's Attorney Generals sought to make those assurances, they also defended the actions in Texas, with Goddard telling the group of polygamists that Texas was right in its removal of hundreds of FLDS children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado and continuing to explain why by saying, "There was one person with control over the whole structure and kids were getting hurt. I think they are rapidly coming to the conclusion that it's an inherently dangerous place and there aren't adults there who are sufficiently powerful to stand up to protect the children."
"No one expected, when we planned this meeting this year, what would happen in Texas. And yet, I ask you tonight, is anybody really surprised?" said Shurtleff, to murmurs of "no" from the audience. "Well, I'm not surprised," he agreed.
Shurtleff said the Texas raid on the FLDS people occurred because "some polygamous leaders have put their people in harm's way."
He then went on to tell them that there would not be any raids on polygamist sects in Utah, no matter what "talking heads" on cable television said.
As the article describes it, they polygamists gathered at the townhall meeting were not reassured that their lifestyle is safe from prosecution, with one man standing up to say, "As a defender of the faith, when you say you will not prosecute polygamy because you don't have the resources, I'm afraid one day when you do have the resources you'll come after me. I believe what happens in one person's bedroom, as long as they are consenting adults, it's nobody's business."
To which Shurtleff responded with, "We didn't make the law. I can't enforce that law (against polygamy) except as an additional crime with something else like child abuse. You're not protected in that. You stand up and say you're proud to be a polygamist and people look down on you. Well, you made your choice. I'm telling you it is a crime. I don't know how to answer you when you ask, what will we do when we get more resources?"
Although Shurtleff assures the public that without evidence of other crimes, his state will not pursue arrests just for the polygamist lifestyle, even though it is illegal in Utah, his previous words, via DallasNews.com, make it clear that despite his denials to Harry Reid's earlier accusations, he also believes that Utah and Arizona hold their fair share of blame for what has now happened, by ignoring the problems inherent with underage marriages with FLDS compounds.
His exact words, back in 2006 to the Los Angeles Times, were, "The fact that this has been going on all these years, and the fact that justice has not been there to protect women and children … from amazing civil rights violations – it is an embarrassment. I don’t want to indict the states of Utah and Arizona, but mea culpa – we are responsible."
Shurtleff also gave another interview in 2007 where he discussed the issues of bigamy, child sexual assault, child rape, incest and civil rights violations. He also explained why it has been so hard to prosecute cases such as this.
Another focal point during yesterday's meeting was when people in the audience were asked how many had family members caught up in the Texas raids and when many raised their hands they asked if these people would willingly take some of the children that were removed into their homes, they all raised their hands again.
Whether a judge will agree to allowing the underage children to move into homes where polygamy is openly being practiced against the law, is another issue altogether.
In the meantime the records seized from the raid in Texas is helping authorities piece together what life was like on the FLDS compound in Texas as well as family ties and the judge has ordered the Texas attorney general's office to serve as the prosecutor on all criminal cases connected to last month's raid of the compound.
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