June 15th, 2017

I’ve long been conflicted on laws governing when society considers a person to be an adult. We have a mishmash of thresholds such as driving at 16, entering the military at 17, voting (and becoming a stripper or porn star) at 18 and buying a beer at 21. We need to set one national age dividing adults from non-adults.

I really don’t care what that age is—16, 18, 21, 25—but the age need to be set and be universal; for every person, in every state, for every circumstance, so we can end this:

Charlotte Alter, writing in The U.S. Laws That Allow Underage Girls to Get Married for Time, has more:

Most Girls Scouts spend their time learning survival skills and selling cookies. But Cassandra Levesque, 18, spent her last year in Girl Scouts drafting and then campaigning for a bill that would raise New Hampshire’s minimum marriage age from 13 to 18.

Under New Hampshire law — as in most other U.S. states — minors can marry as long as they have parental consent and a judge signs off. “Every girl dreams about what their wedding is going to be like,” says Levesque, “but some girls are having a wedding that they never dreamed of. They’re being put into relationships that they’re not ready for.”

Last year Levesque contacted her state representative, Rep. Jacalyn Cilley, who in January 2017 introduced a bill to raise the minimum age of marriage to 16. The bill was later amended to prohibit all marriages for people under 18, before it was defeated by House Republicans in March.

Representative David Bates, who led the campaign against the bill, argued it was important to preserve the option for legal teen marriage in a few key scenarios, such as when a teen is pregnant and wants to marry the father of her child, or if a teenager is serving in the armed forces and wishes to marry before deployment. Bates said that since 17-year-olds can join the military, “there is no way our legislature is going to tell [them] they’re old enough to risk their lives for our country but they’re too young to get married.”

It can be easy to think of child marriage as something that happens somewhere else—in war-torn -countries, in nations notorious for the poor treatment of women. But in the U.S., nearly every state allows at least some people under the age of 18 to marry—and as the columnist Nicholas Kristof recently pointed out in the New York Times, the vast majority of those underage spouses are girls.

According to data compiled for the Times by a child-marriage abolition group called Unchained At Last, more than 167,000 people under the age of 17 married in 38 states between 2000 and 2010. And according to data collected by the Tahirih Justice Center, a nonprofit advocacy group for women and girls fleeing violence, 27 states set no true minimum age for marriage, and nine states set age limits below 16.

Here in Ohio:

The age of consent is sixteen. With parental consent, males and females under the age of 16 can marry and younger parties may receive a license by reason of pregnancy or the birth of a child. Common law marriage is not recognized.

What does the law say in your State?

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