If she can walk she can marry

There’s a reason adult men are attracted to teenage girls, in addition to the whole tight young flesh thing.

When Roy Moore, then 34 years old, asked 17-year-old Debbie Wesson Gibson if she would date him, Gibson asked her mother what she would think.

According to The Washington Post’s investigation into Moore’s pursuit of teenage girls, which was published Thursday, Gibson’s mother replied, “I’d say you were the luckiest girl in the world.”

That attitude of encouraging teenage girls to date older men, rather than shielding girls from men’s advances, sounded familiar to some people who read the Post story that has shaken Moore’s bid for the U.S. Senate.

“It’s not so uncommon that people would necessarily look at it askance,” said Nicholas Syrett, a University of Kansas professor who recently published a book on child marriage in America. “The South has a much longer history of allowing minors to marry, and obviously there’s some courtship or dating — whatever you want to call it — leading up to that.”

The younger you imprison them, the more malleable they are.

That courtship of underage girls is especially common in conservative religious communities.

“We should probably talk about how there is a segment of evangelicalism and home-school culture where the only thing Roy Moore did wrong was initiating sexual contact outside of marriage. [Fourteen-year-old] girls courting adult men isn’t entirely uncommon,” Kathryn Brightbill, who works for the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, tweeted on Friday, prompting a flurry of responses from other people who also had watched teenagers date much older Christian men.

Does the word “patriarchy” ring a bell? Husbands are supposed to take over from fathers, and both are supposed to keep the flighty brainless hotblooded little thing in line.

Ashley Easter, who grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist church where courting was the norm for teenagers, said, “That was the first thing I thought of with Roy Moore.” In her church community in Lynchburg, Va., Easter said, fathers had complete control over whom their daughters were allowed to date, and she could see how a father might set his teen daughter up with a much older man.

“A woman’s role is to be a wife, a homemaker and someone who births children. The man’s role is generally to be established and someone who provides the full income,” said Easter, who runs the Courage Conference for survivors of church sexual abuse. “It may take longer for a man to reach stability. While a woman of 15 or 16, if she’s been trained for a long time looking after her younger siblings, in their eyes she might be ready for marriage.”

And that way she’s locked in early, so it will be harder for her to get out if she ever develops a mind of her own.

Easter said she experienced this courtship culture herself. As a woman in a fundamentalist Christian church who was expected to remain under her father’s roof until he handed her over to her husband, Easter became a “stay-at-home daughter” after high school. She said she understood the pressure a teenager might feel to marry an older man as a way to gain some measure of independence.

Easter left her fundamentalist community four years ago, at age 21, after breaking off a relationship with a man her father had selected for her. Now, she helps run the Courage Conference, a gathering of people who have left abusive religious communities, and listens to the struggles of the women who attend. “Their lives are very difficult now that they’ve gotten free. When you have never learned to make your own choices — you haven’t learned how to be in charge of your life. Working through that can be very scary,” she said.

But maybe not as scary as being married to Roy Moore.

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