Should minors be allowed to marry in the U.S.? | The Tylt
According to some estimates, around 250,000 children were married between 2000 and 2010 in the United States. Activists say children are too young to truly understand the consequences of marriage and the practice is often done to cover up rape in closed religious communities. Others say there should not be a blanket ban because there are times when child marriage could be valid—like for custody reasons or to get spousal benefits. What do you think?
Should minors be allowed to marry in the U.S.?
Activists say it's ridiculous the U.S. does not have laws banning child marriage. Most states allow minors to marry with parental consent or other extenuating circumstances like pregnancy. Some states like New Hampshire allow girls as young as 13 to be married while 27 states have no minimum age at all.
Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times writes allowing minors to marry provides cover for abuse and rape. There may be a few cases of minors marrying for legitimate reasons, but the bad vastly outweighs any good.
Those are precisely the reasons marriages for even 17-year-olds are problematic, according to Fraidy Reiss, who founded Unchained at Last to fight forced marriage and child marriage. Bullied by their parents into marriage, she says, girls may feel powerless to object — and fearful of telling a judge that they don’t want to wed. If they try to flee an abusive marriage, they are turned away from shelters and may be treated as simple runaways.
In many cases, young girls are being coerced into marriage to cover up rapes or out-of-wedlock pregnancies. Even when the marriages are entirely consensual, it's rare that they last and often have lifetime repercussions for those involved. According to a fact sheet released by the World Policy Center, women in child marriages face greater risk of health problems from early pregnancy and childbearing, are three times as likely to experience spousal abuse, and often face economic hardship from a lack of educational opportunities.
The U.S. actively campaigns against child marriage around the world because it recognizes it is an oppressive act and a "human rights abuse." Those same standards should be applied at home.
Despite campaigns to end the practice in the United States, legislation proposing to raise the minimum age to 18 has met resistance by government officials. New Jersey governor Chris Christie vetoed a law which would have banned marriage before 18 outright over reasons of religious freedom. He wrote in a statement:
"An exclusion without exceptions would violate the cultures and traditions of some communities in New Jersey based on religious traditions," the Republican governor wrote.
Stephanie Nilva, executive director of Day One, a group working against domestic violence, says an outright ban against minors marrying would go too far. There should be some reforms, but there are cases when minors have legitimate reasons to marry.
They might have custody concerns or want to secure certain spousal benefits before one of the couple is deployed in combat. Nilva says an outright ban on marriages under 18 could put some young people at risk.
Instead of an outright ban, some say underage marriages should be approved by a judge to determine whether or not the participants are being coerced into the marriage. Virginia recently passed a law which would allow 16 and 17 year olds to marry—but only after they prove their case in front of a judge.
"Someone would at least be looking to see that they're not being coerced, that the individual is mature enough to decide to marry and that the marriage is not going to endanger the minor in any way," Vogel says. "In that case, they'd be allowed to get married. Otherwise, you've got to be 18."