Child marriage is legal in Michigan. House votes to ban ‘despicable practice’
- Michigan House votes to ban marriage by minors under 18
- Bills repeal exceptions for parental consent, judicial approval
- Experts say child marriage often forced by adult men
LANSING — Michigan would become the ninth state in the nation with a total ban on child marriage under legislation approved Wednesday with strong bipartisan support in the state House.
The 10-bill package would limit marriage to 18-year-olds by repealing a longstanding exception allowing 16-year-olds to marry a person of any age if they have written parental consent. The bills would also eliminate an option for younger minors to marry if they have both judicial and parental approval.
“It's hard to believe that this practice is still legal in Michigan in the year 2023,” said sponsoring state Rep. Kara Hope, D-Holt, who noted estimates that more than 5,000 minors were married in the state between 2000 and 2018.
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“More than 80 percent of those (marriages) were between girls and adult males,” she said. “Think about that, thousands of girls’ lives upended because their parents — one parent — married them off to an adult man.”
Experts say minors who marry are often forced into the relationship, sometimes by adults seeking to avoid prosecution for raping a minor. Complicating matters, minors often cannot legally divorce or seek a personal protection order on their own, making them more vulnerable to domestic violence or psychological abuse.
The main bill in the package passed the House with opposition from five Republican representatives: Steve Carra of Three Rivers, Neil Friske of Charlevoix, Matt Maddock of Milford, Angela Rigas of Caledonia and Josh Schriver of Oxford — none of whom explained their position during floor debate.
The legislation would also remove an existing exemption allowing teachers or school administrators to avoid criminal sexual conduct charges if they are legally married to a student who is at least 16 but under the age of 18.
“We will stop actual predators from taking advantage of Michigan children, end this despicable practice of child marriage and also help protect from this form of emotional and sexual abuse,” said Rep. Kristian Grant, D-Grand Rapids, who sponsored one of the bills.
The Senate is expected to consider similar legislation Thursday, setting the stage for final passage and potential signature by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this summer.
Despite a global push to ban child marriage, only eight states have no-exception laws making 18 the minimum age: Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts and Vermont.
A coalition of officials from those states wrote Michigan lawmakers last month, encouraging them to "join us" by ending all marriages before 18 with "no exceptions" and "no compromises."
"Teens do not need marriage, period," the coalition wrote in a letter submitted to the Michigan House Judiciary Committee. "If they are in an abusive home or cannot get health insurance from their parents, they deserve resources that do not require them to enter a contractual sexual relationship."
An estimated 5,259 minors were married in Michigan between 2000 and 2018, and nearly 300,000 nationwide, according to researchers.
Many involved “a spousal age difference that should have been considered a sex crime," Michael Nyenhuis, President and CEO of UNICEF USA, previously told Michigan lawmakers in written committee testimony.
"Child marriage is a violation of human rights and comes at a cost society cannot afford," he said.
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