LANSING — State Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) has introduced a three-bill package to protect children in the state by prohibiting child marriage. Under current Michigan law, the state will recognize the marriage of a 16- or 17-year-old if the parents have given their consent, and if a child is 15 years or younger, then the Probate Court must approve of the union as well. House Bills 6578-6580 would make 18 the minimum age of consent.
“Most of us view child marriage as a thing of the past, but it is more prevalent than we think — even in our own backyard,” said Rep. Anthony. “Standing up for Michigan’s children is a non-partisan issue, and it’s high time we tighten our state’s outdated laws to ensure our children cannot be coerced into marriage against their will. I look forward to tackling this issue with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers.”
Since the year 2000, 200,000 minors have been married across the United States, and about 90 percent of those marriages involved a minor bride and a substantially older man. Across the country, young women and girls are frequently coerced into marrying their rapists or abusers as a way for the family to avoid neglect or assault charges, as well as the public stigma attached to rape, sexual abuse or non-traditional pregnancy.
Research shows significant negative outcomes for girls who are married before adulthood. Not only do most child marriages end in divorce, but married minors are more likely to live in poverty and be victims of spousal abuse. About half of all married minors end up dropping out of high school, and married minors are four times less likely to finish college. They also face a higher risk of mental health problems and physical illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, and stroke.
Rep. Anthony’s legislation would establish 18 as the minimum age of consent for marriage, prohibit judges from issuing a marriage certificate for individuals under 18, and void a marriage involving a minor performed after the effective date of the law. The bills would not affect a marriage that was legally performed before January 1, 2020. A similar package, Senate Bills 1255-1556, is awaiting a final vote in the Senate.