SAN ANGELO, Texas A Texas lawmaker who helped pass legislation strengthening the state's marriage laws in response to the Fundamentalist LDS Church presence in his state said he believes criminal charges will result from the Eldorado raid earlier this month.
"I don't think this will be another Short Creek," Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R- Kerrville, told the Deseret News.
The controversial Short Creek Raid of 1953 in Arizona rounded up polygamist wives and children and jailed the men. No criminal charges were ever brought from the highly publicized event, and all the women returned to their community. It was widely regarded as the political downfall of then-Gov. Howard Pyle because of persecution overtones.
It is 2008, however, and this is Texas, and a lot has changed.
"We didn't invite them here, but by God we are going to make sure they follow the law," Hilderbran said. "This violates Texas values and our lifestyle and the way we see traditional relationships. We are not going to tolerate it."
In 2005 Hilderbran ran legislation, ultimately passed under a broader bill, that was modeled after Utah's polygamy laws in direct response to the members of the FLDS Church acquiring property for the Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado, where more than 400 children were taken into custody April 3. On April 18, a judge ruled that they would remain in state custody because of allegations of young girls marrying older men.
"It was supposed to be a hunting compound, but it was a lot different and a lot bigger," Hilderbran said. "Folks became alarmed that is what put it on the radar screen. ... We don't want children, minors, being sexually assaulted whether they claim to be married or not."
Hilderbran's original HB3006, which was incorporated into a larger child welfare reform bill, SB6, in 2005, raised the marrying age with parental consent from 14 to 16 and included provisions that made it a first-degree felony to marry a child under the age of 16. Being convicted of doing so is punishable up to life in prison. The measures also had criminal penalties for people who officiate such a union and sanctions against parents who knowingly endorse a union and provide false information about the age of their marrying children.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff testified in Texas legislative committee hearings in support of the proposed changes, which were intended to help Texas authorities address newfound problems stemming from the FLDS compound and its inhabitants' way of life.
"Our marriage laws needed to be updated anyway," he said. "Moving from 14 to 16 was a no-brainer for parental consent. It would have the least amount of push-back."
Hilderbran said Texas had enough authority under the criminal laws already on the books for statutory rape and sexual assault of minors to justify its raid and believes those provisions "really boxes them in."
He stands by his state's decision and said FLDS members should have realized that Texas doesn't have the cultural history of abiding by polygamy that other states such as Utah did back in the 1800s.
"We've never had anything like this," he said. "There's been some low-profile polygamists but not really organized."
When the FLDS moved in, it raised eyebrows and caused local concern, he said.
"I think they were fleeing the heat of what was happening in Arizona and Utah," Hilderbran said, referring to criminal investigations into FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs. Jeffs was recently convicted in Utah of rape as an accomplice for arranging an underage union between a teenage girl and her cousin.
"They should have reviewed our history. ... I am surprised they didn't check it out here. We're tougher on crime and a little no-nonsense."
Although the raid's methods, extent and seizure of more than 400 children have raised controversy nationwide, the state's child protective services agency, he said, will be proven right in the long run."The message from Texas is that we're not going to allow older men to sexually assault or commit rape of minors or marry minors here... I think our law enforcement and our agencies are doing right."