Many of the men in the polygamist sect in Eldorado, Texas didn't know it is illegal to marry someone under 18, one of them tells Early Show co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez in an exclusive interview.
Rodriguez conducted the interview Sunday night with three men whose children were among more than 400 removed by authorities from the sect's compound in a raid earlier this month.
It was the first time since the raid that any male members of the sect spoke with a member of the media.
In the wide-ranging interview, Rodriguez asked, "After all this, can you see why society looks upon you and says, 'A girl who's younger than 18 shouldn't be married and having sex?' Has this forced you to reconsider?"
One of the men, who identified himself as Rulon (none of the three offered a last name) responded, "Yes, many of us perhaps were not even aware of such a law, but yes, we have been made very aware in the last two weeks and we do reconsider -- yes." Rulon says he has six children, ranging in age from a year to nine.
All three said they would submit to DNA testing, as ordered by a Texas judge who wanted to help authorities determine who the parents of the children in custory are.
A man who gave his name as Edson and told Rodriguez he has four children, from almost four-years-old to 11, took issue with the view that youngsters are abused in the compound.
"I think they have a very false perception of the way we live because we're closed mouthed," Edson said. "They assume a lot of things that aren't there."
To see all of Part One, click on the arrow in the image below.
Asked by Rodriguez if he was saying older men don't marry adolescent girls in the compound, Edson replied, "I didn't say that at all, but I think that people have a false concept of what our religion is all about. To say that they're sexually abused and that people here are -- they haven't found anything to my knowledge that proves that. ... But I think that, overall, they look at us as if we're immoral people and, in our own makeup, that is the very most important part of our religion, is to be morally clean. I have a hard time standing here being a criminal, when I had no idea that I'm a criminal. I've always strived to be an upright man and my children and my family, everyone that I know, love me and I love them."
If an adolescent had sex with an older man, should that be considered abuse?
Ruloln answered, "The state of Texas has defined it as that. I would simply say, if you had a teenage girl that chose to go that way, could you force her to do otherwise? No, you could not. We are not a people of force. We are people of free agency and peace. We do not teach our children to have sexual conduct before they are of age. We do not teach them that; we teach them the contrary."
"But gentlemen," Rodriguez asked, "do you think that a teenage girl has the maturity to make that kind of decision, especially if she sees other girls doing it and maybe might believe that it's OK? Isn't it your responsibility to tell them no it's not OK?"
A mah who said his name is Jake and said he has a two-and-a-half-year-old child, responded, "You can tell your child, 'Go through the courts to do it right and proper."
"So," Rodriguez followed-uop, "are you saying that, that's what you tell girls who are young and want to marry these older men?"
"Well, it's not my -- it's not my child. That's what I'll tell my children -- it's definitely -- after they're 18, it's their choice. If they want to go that route, they can."
Earlier, Jake said it's been very difficult not having his child with him. His voice cracking, he said, "I miss my child, my heart's broken. But, I know that we'll see him sometime soon, if we stay at it and be faithful."
The interview will be broadcast in two parts, Monday and Tuesday on The Early Show.