Trenton, NJ – A proposed bill that would have banned marriage in New Jersey for anyone under the age of 18 has been tabled for now, reportedly due to religious objections from the Orthodox Jewish community.
The measure was expected to pass easily but was pulled from a voting session yesterday afternoon in the eleventh hour at the request of Passaic Assemblyman Gary Schaer, reported NJ.com (http://bit.ly/2IGPFIq).
Schaer said that he hoped that the bill could be amended to include exemptions for 16 and17 year olds in order to better accommodate New Jersey’s Jewish residents’ religious beliefs.
“I think that the bill could be made better and more representative of the communities throughout the state,” said Schaer. “I think the bill will almost certainly face lawsuits and the bill can easily be improved without losing the importance of its message.”
Currently, New Jersey state law permits the marriage of 16 and 17 year olds with parental consent, while those under age 16 need judicial approval to obtain a marriage license.
According to the New Jersey Department of Health, 3,628 minors were married in the ten year period ending in 2015 ,with approximately 181 of those minors under age 16 at the time of their marriage.
The underage marriage bill has been the subject of debate in New Jersey for some time. The bill passed both houses of the New Jersey legislature but was vetoed in 2017 by then-governor Chris Christie who refused to sign the ban, because it made no provisions for religious customs.
Christie also described the bill as “disingenuous” given the fact that state law allows 16 year olds to obtain abortions without parental consent, as reported by NJ.com (http://bit.ly/2LtS72T).
“Protecting the well-being, dignity, and freedom of minors is vital, but the severe bar this bill creates is not necessary to address the concerns voiced by the bill’s proponents and does not comport with the sensibilities and, in some cases, the religious customs, of the people of this state,” wrote Christie in his veto.
Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, the bill’s main sponsor, said that she sees no reason for any changes to be made to the legislation, reported The Observer (http://bit.ly/2LsX1gA).
“We don’t let 16-year-olds drive,” remarked Munoz. “We don’t let 17-year-olds vote. But we’re going to allow a young girl to get into a marriage with someone?”
Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained At Last which fights against forced marriages, expressed her outrage at the decision. Reiss, who came from a Hasidic family says that she was coerced into an arranged marriage at age 19, described Schaer’s efforts to have the bill pulled as “16th century thinking,” noting that New Jersey has allowed children as young as 13 to marry.
“When you are ending a human rights abuse, why would you carve out an exemption for the people most affected by this human rights abuse?” asked Reiss. “These are exactly the people who need protection.”
New Jersey is not the first state to attempt to regulate minor marriages. Sherry Johnson, who was raped as a nine year old by a church deacon, had a child at age 10 and was married to the man who abused her when she was 11 years old, spearheaded a years-long push in Florida to prevent minors from forced marriages.
A bill to set the minimum age for marriage in Florida to 18 was modified to include 17 year olds, in order to provide greater legal and medical benefits in case of an existing pregnancy, reported the Associated Press (https://yhoo.it/2IIsqh3).
The law, passed earlier this month, also requires 17 year olds to obtain parental consent and limits the maximum spousal age to 19. In the four year period ending in 2016, 37 Florida marriage licenses were issued to children ages 13 to 15, with one 16 or 17 year old girl marrying a man who was more than 90 years old, while others married men more than twice their age.
Delaware recently became the first state in the nation to ban all minor marriages, reported The New York Times (https://nyti.ms/2LvVw16) and there are currently more than a dozen states in the process of revisiting their marriage laws in order to provide greater protection to minors, who advocates say often find themselves trapped in abusive marriages.
Both Missouri and Utah allow marriage at age 15, with Missouri contemplating raising the legal age by one year, while Utah legislators are contemplating a three year jump.