Texas bill takes aim at polygamist group

Austin, USA -- A Kerrville, Texas, lawmaker is trying to make it harder for a polygamist group that is building a compound south of San Angelo to practice some of its more controversial beliefs.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which has historically been based in the twin towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, began erecting buildings on the YFZ Ranch near Eldorado in Schleicher County about a year ago.

Former members have accused the group of coercing girls as young as 14 to marry, sometimes to their relatives, and staging a political takeover of local government in Colorado City and Hildale.

A bill filed by state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, would raise the minimum age of marriage with parental consent to 16 from 14, make it illegal for stepparents to marry stepchildren and toughen residency requirements to run for office.

A separate bill filed by Hilderbran would allow the Schleicher County hospital district to switch from at-large seats to single-member districts to prevent the sect from taking control of the board.

Similar laws regarding underage marriage in Utah and Arizona have not been effective in curbing polygamy.

"What I'm hoping to accomplish is to keep Eldorado and Schleicher County from becoming like Colorado City where this cult came from, and not only protect them but keep it from happening anywhere else in Texas," Hilderbran said.

Salt Lake City lawyer Rod Parker, who represents the sect in some legal matters, said he is concerned by Hilderbran's comments.

"It appears he is specifically targeting them," Parker said.

Because polygamy is a core belief of group members, it is nearly impossible to stop them, Parker said.

"They believe in order to reach salvation they must practice polygamy," Parker said. "There's not a lot the state can do to stop someone who thinks their eternal salvation is at stake."