The Utah Attorney General’s Office said it plans to hold future meetings with representatives of the Fundamentalist LDS Church, something the polygamous sect has said it welcomes.
No dates have been scheduled, and Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is not expected to immediately participate in the next round of meetings.
“He may participate at some point,” spokesman Paul Murphy said Monday.
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At last week’s meeting, FLDS member and spokesman Willie Jessop said a considerable amount of time was devoted to the issue of underage marriages. In a statement issued at the FLDS Church’s YFZ Ranch, the faith recently announced that it will no longer condone or encourage those type of unions.
“Not only did I say this publicly, but the FLDS have lived it privately for more than a year,” Jessop said in a recent interview with the Deseret News. “I’ll be the first to say that this meeting did me some good. It wasn’t a meeting where everyone drew battle lines. I think the ball is in Mark Shurtleff’s court now. We’ll see whether he calls us back or not.”
The meetings are the first since 2002, when Shurtleff said that FLDS leaders told him marriages involving a 16-or 17-year-old girl was a “gray area.” The Utah Attorney General’s Office disagreed, and was in the process of prosecuting Rodney Holm, an FLDS member and Hildale police officer whose third wife was a 16-year-old.
Since then, FLDS leader Warren Jeffs has been convicted of rape as an accomplice for performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He is facing similar charges in Arizona, where four FLDS men were convicted in recent years in connection with underage marriages.
Jessop read the statement clarifying the FLDS Church’s position on marriage in the midst of the custody battle involving 440 children taken from the group’s community in Eldorado, Texas. An appellate court and the Texas Supreme Court both ordered the children returned to their parents, saying that a judge and Texas child welfare authorities acted improperly in ordering all of the children removed from the YFZ Ranch.
“I’m grateful they’re making public statements about what they plan to do and not do,” Murphy said of the FLDS. “Once again, they need to learn to trust us and we need to learn to trust them. We’re both seeing if that’s possible.”
Murphy said an invitation has always been extended to the FLDS to participate in the Safety Net Committee — a group of polygamists, social service agencies and government bureaucrats who work together to help prevent abuse and neglect and open a bridge-building dialogue.