Photo by Ruben D. Luevano.
Up to now I have tried to remain very reserved in my response to the FLDS child custody cases in Texas. The idea that the state can mossy on into a religious enclave and on the phoned-in, unverified report, of one girl being abused at the hands of her husband take away over 400 children from their parents frightens me. Just the idea that the state would say that based only on the families proximity to one another and shared faith that all those children were in imminent danger of abuse is madness. Fortunately the Texas courts seem to be agreeing that the state overstepped its authority. It really surprises me that so many people seem to disagree. There seems to be an undercurrent that the state shouldn’t wait until “something happens” to one of these children before they take them from their parents.
I agree with the emotional appeal of protecting children and the idea that the state has to wait until someone gets hurt before stepping in means that a child must in fact be hurt before the state can do anything, but that is the very basis of our law. We don’t punish people for something they might do in the future. You don’t take a woman’s baby girl away from her because in 14 years the mother might help push the girl into some plural marriage. And at the root of this argument is really religious bigotry. Since the parents are wacky cultists, brain-washed into believing that they are going to hell if they aren’t in on the whole 50 year-old-man wedding his 14 year-old niece thing their parental rights don’t count as much. That is dangerous to all of us. Who knows when the definition of “wacky” is going to include not using birth-control or homeschooling?
My friend Allison over at Westward Wagons Ho! poses the following questions:
How does this jive with the teen pregnancy rate in our country? How does this line up with teen girls of the same age being able to have abortions without their parents knowledge? I don’t get it.The country is moving toward recognition of several variations of “marriage”, but polygamy is not one of them, apparently. If gay marriage is OK, why is polygamy (I’m assuming between adults) still illegal?
“Get your religion out of my Laws” a bumper sticker says. But why is it that we still hold to some morals but not others.
Personally I was at first asking the same question about why, as a society, we allow — even encourage– young teens to explore their sexuality, but at the same time have an official Texas-sized, State-child-protective-agency, freak-out over girls the same age getting married and having babies. Then it occurred to me. Our culture has done such a through job of separating sex from parenthood that most people can’t mentally or emotionally draw a line from the point A of sex to the point B of motherhood. Since sex has been divorced from motherhood kids having sex is seen as almost ‘playtime’ in some circles and Planned Parenthood’s website calls foreplay and everything short of vaginal intercourse “sex play”.
Marketing towards children has become ever more sexualized and targeting an ever younger audience. Pre-teens once referred to as children are now called “tweens”. We force our children to grow up too quickly and too sexualized and then go batty when young women of 16 or 17 show up on TV in prairie schooner dresses with their babies in their arms. Buy your 12 year old a thong and put your 13 year old on the pill and take your 14 year old down to the abortion clinic and you are realistic if not hip. Marry your 15 year old off to some old coot and you are committing child abuse.
Now please don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying that teen girls being married to old men (or at all) are a good thing. I certainly wouldn’t marry off my daughter to anyone. I am not even arguing the merits of polygamy, teen marriage or arranged marriages. Morally I absolutely think the whole thing is awful and terrible. But I don’t think objectively it is really any worse than the way millions of parents in America (don’t) parent their daughters. But I really don’t think this is as much about sex as it is about motherhood. The freaking out is happening because these teen girls are having babies. Sex is play, motherhood is serious adult business in our society.
A similar thing can be said about redefining marriage. The definition has already been altered. Marriage has lost its procreative definition. It isn’t about building a family and raising children. Marriage is about self and mutual gratification. That is why divorce is seen as “no big deal” if your main reason for marriage is personal happiness what possible incentive is there to sticking through tough times? And if marriage is seen has a way to personal happiness (happily ever after) what possible argument could there be against extending it to everyone who wants it in whatever configuration they desire?
The easiest person to condemn is the one we understand the least, the one we have the least in common with. When I was a college freshman on of my roommates was a Muslim girl from Tunisia. She was absolutely appalled that my father would allow me to date un-chaperoned. In her world the only fathers who would allow such a thing were drunkards or just didn’t care about their girls. It would be disgraceful. I think she actually felt sorry for me at first because my parents obviously didn’t really love me enough to protect me. I was puzzled by this at first until I was able to process that her upbringing and reality were very different than mine.
It is very easy to look at these religious nuts in their frumpy hair and antiquated dresses and condemn them on every level while excusing the moms who let their young teen daughters pop on the high heals, belly shirts and smear on the makeup to troll the mall. The reality is a bit more complex.