Is it possible for a community under a couple thousand people to abuse 416 children? Contemplate this for a second. A community less than a quarter of the size of where I grew up, and they are presently being investigated for abusing a number of children they bore equal to 75% of the number of students that attended my high school. There are many fundamental questions surrounding this issue. Before we get too far into the process, the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints are not in union with the Latter Day Saints. The Latter Day Saints as a matter policy disunion any members who are found to engage in polygamy.
Polygamy involves a lot more nuance than one would initially anticipate. The presence of polygamy in the Old Testament certainly wasn’t a creation of Joseph Smith preserved by the FLDS. For a comprehensive treatment on polygamy, see Pope Leo XIII’s Arcanum. Polygamy is still an issue the Church is addressing. A search of the Vatican will find many exhortations in various African countries. Often the issue is included with such issues as divorce, irregular marriage, and having children out of wedlock. A cursory examination doesn’t see it being paired with same sex marriage. As many polygamists will note, sex has very little to do with polygamy; it is more of a societal level economic arrangement.
Another facet of outrage in this situation is marriage to adolescents. This was aided by a sensationalistic aspect of the story claiming that there was a bed in the temple where the marriages were forced to be consumated. For me this part of the story had too much of a what-happens-in-the-basements-of-convents quality to it. The FLDS are presently speculating that this investigation was most likely originated by a disgruntled former member; I think this detail lends credence to that claim. As to the marriage of adolescents, Canon Law actually addresses the situation today.
Can. 1071 §1. Except in a case of necessity, a person is not to assist without the permission of the local ordinary at: 6/ a marriage of a minor child when the parents are unaware or reasonably opposed; [Several conditions not related to youth marriage omitted.]
Can. 1072 Pastors of souls are to take care to dissuade youth from the celebration of marriage before the age at which a person usually enters marriage according to the accepted practices of the region.
Can. 1096 §1. For matrimonial consent to exist, the contracting parties must be at least not ignorant that marriage is a permanent partnership between a man and a woman ordered to the procreation of offspring by means of some sexual cooperation.§2. This ignorance is not presumed after puberty.
At the State level, adolescent marriage generally has been treated differently than sexual abuse of adolescents. A barrier to adolescent marriage would be the need to get consent of the parents in some places. Being pregnant in some places will allow you to recieve a marriage license as an adolescent. The law seems to contemplate there being good, bad, and worse situations, and so as to avoid worse situations, it allows marital consent by adolescents. By the same token the law attempts to protect minors from unscrupulous people by making sexual relations absent marriage to adolescents criminal.
Obviously, polygamy and adolescent marriage are seen as opposed to societal values today. There are and will be issues addressing both of these matters with minority sects and cultures. In addressing these issues, I think we need to be cognizant of the externalities placed upon the State. For example, there was a case in Utah where several of the wives of a man were receiving welfare benefits. While not particular to any community, another externality would be heavy demands placed upon law enforcement. In each situation you aren’t dealing with a closed society, you are dealing with a society leeching off another. In the particular case in Texas, I think it is a cruel joke to place into protective custody over 400 children because of an anonymous phone call. By this standard are we going to start closing schools across the country? There is plenty of risk of sexual abuse in our schools. Perhaps we could just let them live in peace and work to integrate them into the broader society.
Update: Perhaps due to malice, there are some who have implied that I support polygamy. This is nonsense. A particular person who has bemoaned his persecution on his blog for endorsing the State sanctioning homosexual unions ironically can’t bring himself to countenance the practice of polygamy, a practice that has been far more ubiquitous in the world and through out time than homosexual unions. Since I provided a link to Pope Leo’s definitive treatment on polygamy, I figured I wouldn’t have to restate his entire argument verbatim.