Two people were arrested in Texas after a man allegedly convinced a 14-year-old girl that the two of them were married.
A police investigation was opened in June after the teen told her doctor that she was married and sexually active, adding that she had been married since she was 13.
The probe led police to arrest Steven Carty, 47, and the victim's mother, 39-year-old Cherry Jamilla Payton. Carty is charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child, while Payton is charged with child endangerment through parental negligence.
The Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office said Payton was aware that her daughter had a sexual relationship with Carty but did nothing to stop it.
"She knew that these two were sexually active with each other, so we felt the charge of endangering a child did fit," detective Dawn Welch said, according to WTOC.
Carty and Payton reportedly described themselves as Hebrew Israelites and said the marriage between Carty and the teenager is authorized by their religion.
"This is their culture. This is what they believe," Welch told KPRC. "Some of the things they believe don’t coincide with Texas state law, which is where we come in and we were able to determine that an offense had been met. Even with their cultural beliefs, with respect to their culture, there was a violation."
Authorities said there is no record of a marriage license, which means the two were not legally married.
"She didn't get married in front of pastor or priest," Fort Bend Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Caitilin Espinosa told the Houston Chronicle. "It was a cultural thing that she believes she was married."
Carty and Payton are from the Houston area. Police say there were no other children living in their home in Sugar Land at the time of their arrests. The teen has been placed in the custody of Child Protective Services.
"I find the whole situation terribly disturbing," Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls said, according to KRIV. "The victim was a child when she entered this so called marriage with a much older man and she is still a child who needs us to look after her well-being."
Carty and Payton are being held at Fort Bend County Jail. Carty's bond was set at $100,000. Payton's was set at $10,000.
On June 15, Texas Governor Greg Abbott approved a bill that makes 18 the minimum age requirement for marriage. Prior to the new law, 16-year-olds could get married with parental consent.