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Witnesses dispute that church allows men to force sex

Jeffs' teachings say it is up to women to initiate marital relations, sect members say, contrary to a teen bride's claims.

September 19, 2007|Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writer

ST. GEORGE, UTAH — Three couples testified Tuesday that their polygamous sect, whose leader is on trial as an accomplice to rape in the arranged marriage of a 14-year-old girl, does not allow men to force themselves on their wives.

Prosecutors have argued that principles of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, reinforced by self-proclaimed prophet Warren Jeffs, forced the girl into an unwanted marriage to her 19-year-old cousin. Once married, she and other relatives testified, the religion and Jeffs gave her no option to say no to her husband.

But as the defense opened its case Tuesday, a parade of FLDS witnesses said that was not what the church taught.

"I was very strongly taught that there was no force, and it was my opinion that it [sexual initiation] was when I decided," said Cristine Shapley, 21, who also said that she did not have sex with her husband for about four months after their wedding.

Another woman testified that when her husband persisted in seeking sex, she turned him down and complained to Jeffs, who dissolved the marriage.

The FLDS, which is based in southern Utah and Arizona, has been disavowed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which banned polygamy in 1890. FLDS members believe any socializing with the opposite sex before marriage is prohibited.

In presenting its case, the prosecution argued that the 14-year-old pleaded with FLDS leaders to reconsider the marriage but that Jeffs and others said no. The woman, who is now 21, testified that she later told Jeffs her husband was "touching her" in ways she didn't like. Jeffs told her to return to her husband, she said.

But Jennie Pipkin, 26, described a very different outcome from her pleas to Jeffs in 2004. She testified that she had had five children with her husband and wanted "a break," but that he persisted in trying to have sex with her. Then, Pipkin said, she found a passage from Jeffs' teachings that said it was up to the woman to initiate marital relations.

"I felt empowered by his statement that I was to be in charge," Pipkin said. She appealed to Jeffs, who backed her decision and ended the marriage, said Pipkin, who owns an Internet-based marketing business.

"I know of no man who would force his wife. Force is against our religion," she said Tuesday.

Other witnesses testified that though women did not have to automatically obey their spouses, a religion that called for "obedience" from a husband's multiple wives created household dynamics different from those of most of society.

"I am supposed to rule over them, but with a loving hand," FLDS member Kenneth Thomas, 44, said of his wife. "I am to be their leader. . . . [But] if they don't want to do something that I guide them to do, I cannot force them."

Prosecutors pointed out that the women who testified for the defense Tuesday all had married when they were older than the alleged victim. And all had asked to be married.

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nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com

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