Polygamist Wedding Officiant To Be Released from Prison

Polygamist Wedding Officiant To Be Released from Prison

Should personal marriage choices be legally regulated and subject to criminal consequences?

In cases that include underage girls and consent issues, should parents’ permission be sufficient to sanction girls’ marriages to polygamist leaders? The article Polygamist Wedding Officiant Gets Early Release in Texas (http://nyti.ms/1FXY2qi) outlines the story of Fredrick Merril Jessop who will be released early from his ten-year sentence for marrying his then-12-year-old daughter to sect leader Warren Jeffs. Jessop is set to be released within 90 days.

Warren Jeffs was the leader of the polygamist sect the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a sect of the Latter Day Saints who have continuously condemned the FLDS. They broke off from the LDS in the 20th century and have asserted the necessity of polygamy in order for members to ascend to the highest level of heaven. The FLDS call these marriages “celestial marriages” and refer to the process of marriage as “sealing”.

Jessop, a FLDS bishop and marriage officiant, officiated the ceremony between his twelve-year-old daughter and Jeffs, who is now serving a life sentence in prison. Jessop himself had an estimated 22 wives.

If “celestial marriages” are religious ceremonies and not legally recognized marriages, should law enforcement be able to interfere with religious freedom and spiritual ceremonies? As noted in the article, the issue of polygamy within the FLDS sect is the danger of young girls being exploited by encouraged marriages between young girls and older men. In Jessop’s case, should his parental consent be enough to enter his underage daughter into celestial, non-legally recognized marriage with a 59-year-old man? The troubling issue for me is the idea that two men of power in the community – the leader and a bishop – encourage and endorse a marriage between a child and an adult man. Regardless of parental consent, two authority figures can have substantial influence on marital decisions within the community, which can be nonconsensual and exploitative for child brides. The extraordinary personalities and the charisma manifested by sect leaders produce faith in followers and can subsequently be extremely influential in the life decisions of followers (Hexham & Poewe, pg. 164)


(Reuter’s story for The New York Times, “Polygamist Wedding Officiant Gets Early Release in Texas” February 11, 2015 http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2015/02/11/us/11reuters-usa-polygamy-texas.html)

Hexham, I., & Poewe, K. (1998). Understanding cults and New Age religions. Vancouver: Regent College Pub.


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