Legislation Regarding Marriage by Minors
Marriage by minors has been in the news recently as some states introduced legislation aimed at prohibiting child marriage. Until now in New York, minors as young as 14 were permitted to marry. New changes abolish marriage for 14-16- year-olds and allows 17-year-olds to marry if they have both judicial and parental consent.
The New York state Republican led Senate passed the bill, as did the State Assembly, which is controlled by the Democrats. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo supports ending child marriage and is expected to sign the bill into law.
Across the bridge in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed a bill introduced by Republican Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz that would have banned marriages by minors in New Jersey. Munoz was moved by stories told at a committee hearing last year of minors being forced to marry for religious reasons. Unchained at Last is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the still widespread practice of child marriage in the United States. According to their executive director, Fraidy Reiss, almost 3,500 marriages with a partner under 18 took place in New Jersey from 1995 to 2012. Most of the minors in the marriages are girls married to adult men.
Christie proposed changes to the current law that would ban all marriages for minors under 16 and require judicial consent for any 16 and 17-year-olds seeking to marry. He pointed out that New Jersey law permits 16-year-olds to consent to sex and obtain an abortion without parental consent, and that no state bans marriages for minors completely.
Amy Paulin, the New York Assemblywoman who sponsored the bill, called child marriage “coerced marriage,” saying, “it condemns young women to a life they did not choose.” Experts on family law also agree that girls forced to marry as teenagers endure social, educational, and financial burden as a result. Some girls are forced to marry cousins from abroad to get a green card and permanent residency in the United States for the husband. Previously in New York, a girl could marry at 14, but could not legally divorce until 18, and most domestic violence shelters cannot accept victims under 18. Now the changes to New York state law mandate that a 17-year-old that marries can also divorce.
In New Jersey, some pro-life supporters and politicians sided with Gov. Christie saying that a pregnant teen should be able to marry so that the baby is not born out of wedlock. Christie said that although he agrees that minors need to be protected, the bill was too severe because “it does not comport with the sensibilities and, in some cases the religious customs, of the people of this State.”
New Jersey Assemblywoman Munoz was disappointed by Christie’s conditional veto and had anticipated being first in the country to enact a law banning marriage for minors. Instead, the President of the National Organization for Women of New York, Sonia Ossorio, said in her praise of Gov. Cuomo, “New York is poised to lead the nation in recognizing child marriage as a violation of human rights.”
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