LANSING — On the opening day of the 100th legislative session, state Reps. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), Graham Filler (R-DeWitt), and Kara Hope (D-Holt) introduced a three-bill package prohibiting child marriage in Michigan.
“Michigan’s children cannot afford any delay when it comes to updating our antiquated marriage laws, so I wasted no time reaching out to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in this important initiative,” explained Anthony. “Standing up for Michigan’s children is something on which we can all agree, regardless of political party or personal background, and I look forward to working together to move these bills across the finish line.”
Under Michigan law, the state will recognize the marriage of a 16- or 17-year-old if a parent has given his or her consent, and if a child is 15-years-old or younger, then the Probate Court must approve of the union as well.
In the last few years, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Connecticut, New York, Texas, and Virginia have all passed laws to reform marriage policies. The changes span from increasing the minimum age for marriages to 17 or 18, to preventing an age gap of more than three years between spouses, to an outright end to child marriage in any form.
According to Filler, it is time for Michigan to follow suit: “This package is just good governance. If young people can’t legally sign a contract until age 18, we need to offer them consistent legal protections across the board. If we can do anything to reduce the alarming number of cases of sexual abuse and human trafficking in our state, we have to step up and do our part.”
Since the year 2000, two hundred thousand minors have been married 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.
Allowing minors to marry with parental consent also creates opportunities for organized crime, offering a cover-up for human traffickers. Some states, including Missouri, have even reported the development of “tourist marriage” practices, in which young girls are brought across state lines for the purpose of marriage.
“My experience in family law has taught me that the child’s best interest must be the primary legal and human consideration because children typically cannot advocate for themselves,” said Hope. “As elected officials, it is up to us to protect all Michiganders, especially the most vulnerable among us — our children. It is time to put an end to coerced child marriage in this state.”
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 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.
Specifically, the legislation would establish 18 as the minimum age of consent for marriage, prohibit judges from issuing a marriage certificate for individuals under marriageable age, and voids 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 Jan. 1, 2020.