LANSING, Mich., May 17, 2023 — The Michigan House Committee on Judiciary unanimously voted out a package of bills today to ban child marriage in Michigan.
“We have fought for years to ban child marriage in Michigan, and I’m glad we are finally making real progress,” said state Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt), the sponsor of two bills in the bill package, House Bills 4293–94. “For years, we couldn’t get a hearing in committee, let alone a vote on the floor. Our children — especially our girls — deserve better from their leaders.”
State. Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) introduced bills to ban child marriage three times when she served as state representative and has now reintroduced a version of this legislation in the Senate. Hope is reintroducing her legislation for the third time.
“When I learned that child marriage was still legal in Michigan today, I was horrified,” said state Rep. Jenn Hill (D-Marquette), sponsor of HB 4300. “Child marriage is nothing more than an instrument of abuse. We have to end it and change this archaic, backward part of Michigan law.”
About 95% of child marriages are between girls and adult men. Abusive parents often force rape survivors into marrying their abusers to avoid charges of neglect. In most states, and under federal law, sex with a child that would otherwise be considered rape becomes legal within marriage.
“Thinking about what survivors of child marriage have gone through is like a punch in the gut,” said state Rep. Joey Andrews (D-Benton Harbor), sponsor of HB 4302. “It is absolutely unconscionable that these laws have stayed on the books as long as they have.”
The United Nations declared child marriage a violation of human rights. Human Rights Watch gave Michigan an F on its assessment of Michigan’s treatment of children, in part because of its child marriage laws.
“Our current lax laws make our state attractive to sex abusers and human traffickers from around the nation,” said state Rep. Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City), sponsor of HB 4296. “I look forward to the Legislature and the governor coming together to say loud and clear that we will protect our children.”
The bill package is part of an expansive, multi-year effort led by Democratic women to hold abusers accountable and protect survivors. The House passed state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky’s (D-Livonia) reintroduced bill to close Michigan’s martial rape loophole in April. State Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Township), the sponsor of a bill in the package (HB 4298), recently reintroduced for the fourth time legislation to establish a Survivors’ Bill of Rights to extend Michigan’s statute of limitations for prosecuting sex crimes and provide survivors with greater support throughout the process. A package of bills aiming to prevent sexual abuse under the guise of medical treatment has been introduced every session since 2018 and is finally expected to pass, now that Democrats lead every branch of state government.