Why Do Some FLDS Teen Girls Marry While Others Don’t?

Some people ask if early marriage is mandated for FLDS teens? The obvious answer is "no," many are allowed to reach the ripe old age of 18 before being "assigned."

Some people ask if early marriage is mandated for FLDS teens? The obvious answer is "no," since only some of the girls aged 12 to 16 are married. Many are allowed to reach the ripe old age of 18 before being "assigned." So why do some marry young, while others don't?

We can look in a couple of directions. I tend to look to my own family for information, since my father took his wives under similar priesthood leadership, before the FLDS and AUB became separate entities. He married two fifteen year-olds. The first, Aunt "Rachel" worried her father with her inclination toward sensuality. Rachel's mother had died giving birth, and although his plural wives looked after her, her father may have worried that if she didn't get married, she'd get "in trouble." My father married her as requested, but didn't consummate the relationship until she was older.

The second woman had been the mothers' favored babysitter, and she made it clear to her father that she wanted to come into Dr. Allred's family. But she probably didn't expect to marry him until she was older. My father had been sentenced to prison for illegal cohabitation, so they married the night before he sentence began. She had no warning, was dressed in her nightgown, hair braided for bed, feet dusty from the coal bin where she'd propped her feet while doing her math homework at the kitchen table. Her father married them in my father's doctor's office, with no one else present-it was to be kept a secret even from her mother. My father forgot to kiss her after the ceremony, and she had to remind him. They didn't consummate the marriage until after he'd served his sentence and then some, since conditions of his parole precluded his being with his plural wives.

We can also look at the experience of Elissa Wall, whose nightmare marriage at the age of fourteen to her cousin Allen Steed is the focal point of her book, Stolen Innocence. Elissa gave her priesthood leaders big headaches. Like her brothers and her sister, Teressa, Elissa objected to religious leaders breaking up her parents' marriage. Elissa asked too many questions. She showed subtle signs of rebellion. And because she was so deeply bonded to her mother, she interfered in her mother's second marriage, to Colorado City Bishop, Fred Jessop. "Fred didn't like Elissa for some reason," Teressa told me. "He wanted to get her out of the house." He also wanted to reward Elissa's cousin, Allen Steed, for being a loyal follower. So he talked Warren Jeffs into assigning Elissa to Allen-against her initial pleas and her subsequent refusal. In the final analysis, Elissa was forced to marry Allen as the outcome of a power struggle between a teenaged girl and the head of the FLDS community.

I suspect that girls are assigned to marry young because they are precocious-intellectually or emotionally or sexually. But that doesn't mean it's justifiable. Gifted teens sometimes start college when they're fourteen or fifteen, but that doesn't mean they're ready to attend frat parties. Precocity doesn't equal readiness for adult life. Right?