By Miriam Raftery
March 20, 2017 (Sacramento) – A bill introduced in the state Capitol would prohibit anyone under 18 from getting married.
California is currently tied with Tennessee for the sixth highest rate of marriages by minors in the nation, even though some safeguards already exist to protect young would-be brides and grooms. But the state already has laws in place to prevent would-be Romeo and Juliet couples from getting hitched without their parents’ permission.
Currently, if you’re under 18 and want to wed in California, you must get permission from a parent or legal guardian, undergo an interview with a Family Court Services counselor, bring ID and get a court order issued by a judge. Requirements for having a parent present may be waived if the parent has abandoned the family, lives overseas or is no longer living.
But now Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) wants to make California the first state in the nation to ban all marriages by minors. He says he introduced the measure after a constituent told him about a 12-year-old girl who was engaged to be married. Under current law, that’s legal provided she gets a parent or guardian and a judge to agree.
In California, as many as a thousand marriages each year have a bride or groom age 15 to 17 years old. Under-age marriages can occur out of true love, but can be the result of arranged marriages or urgency due to a baby on the way or a partner in the military being sent overseas.
Arranged marriages are allowed under several religions including Islam, Hindu, Haredi Judaism and certain Christian sects.
But Senator Hill calls arranged child marriages “immoral” and notes that marriages among teenagers also have high rates of divorce. His bill would raise the age of consent to 18, the same as for military service.
Many states have minimum ages of consent to marry without permission, often 16 or 17. Nebraska has sent the consent age at 18 and Mississippi at 21. However, all states allow exceptions in certain cases with parental permission, particularly if the couple is expecting a baby or has already had a child.
Such allowances may turn a blind eye to statutory rape laws; in California, it’s a crime for anyone over 18 to have sex with someone under 18. California currently has the highest teen birth rate in the nation, and 75% of babies born to high school girls were fathered by men 18 or older. But courts and families often view it more desirable to have a father take responsibility for a child than to send an adult father of a teenage mother’s child to jail.
In California, you must be 16 to get a driver’s license, 18 to drink alcohol and 21 to smoke cigarettes, though there is no minimum age of consent to obtain an abortion.
Efforts to raise California’s marriage age with no exceptions puts rights of willing minors, religious freedom, and concerns for protecting children born out of wedlock against the state’s concern over protecting minors from shotgun weddings against their will, as well as potentially immature judgment in choosing when to marry.