If, as some church members contend, they ever performed them at all.
“We’ve had polygamous sects say, ‘We will not do child-bride marriages,”‘ Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff told the Deseret Morning News.
The attorney general said he recently had members of one polygamist group sit in his office and say they will not allow anyone under 18 to marry in their church.
“Much of this prosecution involves children,” Shurtleff said. “That’s what prosecutors are scrutinizing. Not the practice of polygamy, but involving children.”
Jeffs is going on trial in St. George’s 5th District Court for rape as an accomplice, a first-degree felony. Jury selection continues this week. Washington County prosecutors have accused him of performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year- old cousin.
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Taking a break?
The attorney general said he has heard rumors but has no evidence to suggest that underage marriages are continuing within the FLDS sect since Jeffs has been jailed. Other polygamist sects no longer practice it, some of their members say.
“We do encourage them to be 18 now,” said Carlene Cannon, a member of the Davis County Cooperative Society. “It’s actually a choice between the people entering the marriage, but we as parents and community members encourage them to be 18.”
Members of the Kingston family have been prosecuted in the past for underage marriages. David Ortell Kingston served prison time for incest and sexual conduct with a minor, for having sex with a 16- year-old who said she was his 15th wife.
Cannon said her group always has encouraged those entering into a marriage to wait until they are old enough and mature enough — but now state law has a say.
“It’s always been a personal choice,” she said. “Now it involves the legal technicalities.”
Some said they never did perform child-bride marriages.
“We don’t condone that at all,” said one polygamist man, who spoke to the Deseret Morning News on condition of anonymity.
The pro-polygamy group Principle Voices has pressed the issue with many polygamist sects, saying that raising the marriage age is not abandoning any religious doctrine.
“What we’ve suggested is: Let’s obey the laws as much as we can. This is one that we should be able to adhere to,” said Principle Voices’ Anne Wilde.
Currently, Utah law puts the legal marriage age at 16 with parental consent. That may be one reason why polygamist groups have become more clear about what age marriages will be conducted.
“Any priesthood sealings, which are not legal marriages, then they need to be 18,” Wilde said.
Changes in state law that raised unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old to a second-degree felony also may have played a role.
“Some groups have demonstrated they’re willing to face a third- degree felony bigamy,” Shurtleff said.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office has had a policy of not prosecuting polygamists for bigamy per se, instead using it in addition to sex crimes charges filed in connection with underage marriages.