How Young Is Too Young?

So its the middle of 1963 and the 20 year old Toritto is dating the 17 year old JoAnn..

We were in love; geez were we in love.  I took her to her prom when she graduated high school and we spent all of our free time together.  There was no doubt in our minds that we were going to marry.

However as far as marriage was concerned JoAnn was still a “child.”  At 17 she could not marry without parental consent.  I couldn’t marry either.  The law at the time was that males had to be 21.  We could not marry without parental consent.  And there was not a chance in hell that our parents would have allowed us to marry.

Actually, until last year the minimum age for marriage in New York was 14.

That’s fourteen.

Between 14 and 16 one needed court approval to marry.  At 16 or 17 one needed parental consent.

She turned 18 in June and I turned 21 ins September of that year.  We got engaged in October and married on December 28, 1963.

Child marriage in America you say?

A bill that would have ended child marriage in Idaho — which has no minimum age for couples who want to wed — died in the Statehouse earlier this year.  Republican lawmakers, who control the Legislature, opposed it  saying it “went too far.  “Obviously, I’m against child marriage,” one GOP lawmaker told NBC News. “But basically marriage is a contract between people that shouldn’t require government permission.”

Even as more states take action to end child marriage concerns about government overreach, along with scant data about the extent of the problem, have driven skepticism to reform across the country, sometimes creating unlikely alliances between conservative groups and those often on the other side,like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.

Idaho has the highest rate of child marriage in the United States (defined as one of the partners is 17 or younger) according to a national report.   The Democratic sponsor of the Idaho legislation which would have set the marriage age at 16 thought that her bill was a “modest compromise.”

However Republican state representatives indicated they were concerned about protecting the “sanctity of the family” adding that there were sufficient safeguards – such as judicial review of underage marriages – to prevent older men from exploiting young girls.

Perhaps in Idaho, but in New York there were 6,000 marriages of girls 16 or younger from 2010 to last year, the vast majority to older men.

In California, a bill to set the minimum marriage age at 18 — the state’s age of consent — failed in 2017 after objections from lawmakers and liberal groups such as the state’s American Civil Liberties Union. The state currently has no minimum marriage age and collects little to no data on child marriages.

The ACLU argued that the bill “unnecessarily and unduly intrudes on the fundamental rights of marriage, without sufficient cause,” adding that “largely banning marriage under 18, before we have evidence regarding the nature and severity of the problem, puts the cart before the horse.”

Other groups, like Planned Parenthood and The National Center for Youth Law, a youth advocacy organization, agreed.

After much fighting and squabbling, New Hampshire approved a minimum marriage age of 16 (the statutory age of consent) on the second try, Republicans defeating it first time around.

GOP Rep. David Bates and others raised concerns about whether teens could marry while one of them was deployed for military service. Bates lambasted the bill’s sponsor  and scolded his colleagues in a speech on the state House floor at the time.  “We’re  asking the legislature to repeal a law that’s been on the books for over a century, that’s been working without difficulty”  The minimal age for marriage at the time was 13 for girls and 14 for boys.

Bates was partly right – the previous law had been on the books for a hundred years.

Idaho and California are not alone in not having a minimum marriage age.  A majority of states which issue marriage licenses allow 16 and 17 year-olds to marry; a few allow 14 year-olds and currently 13 states have no minimum marriage age.  Prior to 2016 more than half of all states had no minimum marriage age whatsoever.

At the same time, the U.S. government holds the position that allowing marriage under the age of 18 is a human rights violation when allowed in foreign countries.   Meanwhile,  nearly a quarter of a million children were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010 – the majority of whom were young girls marrying older men.

In Louisiana, a heated debate erupted in the legislature earlier this year as lawmakers haggled over whether to set a minimum marriage age in the state. Republicans — and a handful of Democrats — argued that teens should be allowed to marry in certain instances, such as pregnancy or military service.

“If they’re both 16 years old, and they both consent to sexual relations, and they’re about to have a baby, why wouldn’t we want them to be married?” state Rep. Nancy Landry, a Republican, said at the time.

Kathleen Benfield, the legislative director for the Louisiana Family Forum, an influential conservative nonprofit in the state, told NBC News that her organization was also concerned about forcing a teen mother to give birth out of wedlock if the age was set at 18 with no exceptions.

We would oppose any exploitation of young girls by older men — that’s the bottom line,” Benfield said. “But we just wanted to make sure that the value of marriage as a cherished institution was supported.”

In the end, the group gave the bill lukewarm support thanks to provisions such as requiring that the age difference between a minor and an adult be no more than three years, placing stringent guidelines for judges to review each case and mandating the collection of marriage data to study the extent of child marriage in the state.

The bill passed in June, setting the minimum marriage age at 16, and the law  took  effect in August.

While progress has been slow in setting a minimum age to marry, requiring lots ot outreach and direct contact with legislators, there is less luck with legislators who say, ‘I don’t care. I don’t care. A girl gets pregnant, she’s got to get married.  Joseph married Mary when she was eight. If it was good enough for God, why shouldn’t it be good enough for us?'”

Lawmakers often conflate the maturity of some teens with the legal capacity to enter a marriage, which is considered a legal contract that many laws specify only adults can enter into or annul.

“For someone to say if you’re 17 and you’re mature and in love that it’s somehow okay for you to marry. No, it’s not because you’re still not an adult,  You cannot be allowed to marry before you would be  allowed to file for divorce, that’s just so obvious.”

So in summary, requirements to marry are set by each state.

All states set a minimum age over which you can choose to get married without having permission from anyone else. As of the time of writing this article, that age is 18 in 48 states.

The two outlying states are Mississippi, which sets that threshold at 21, and Nebraska, where you must be at least 19 years old to make this decision on your own.

Half of the states set a minimum age for marriage, below which you generally cannot marry. Where it exists, the minimum age varies from between 14 and 17 years old:

  • 14: Alaska,  New York, North Carolina
  • 15: Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Utah
  • 16: Alabama, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin
  • 17: Nebraska, Oregon
  • No other state has a minimum age level for marriage.

States have set additional requirements for persons under the age of 18 to wish to marry.  These include parental consent and/or Court approval.    Exceptions include persons serving in the military who don’t require parental approval.  Pregnancy or having already had a child will normally gain Court approval for the marriage of an underage girl.

In the vast majority of underage marriages it is a young girl marrying an older man – a marriate arranged by her parents in which she probably had little input.

So you see, we are really not that much more “civilized” than those other people.

How young is too young?  Take a look at that teen staring at their phone in your living room.  Eighty seven percent of minors who marry are girls.  Eighty six percent of all minors who married did indeed marry adults.  And while data is difficult to obtain since many states to not keep records, over 1,000 at last count were age 14 or under at the time of marriage during the last decade.  Six were only twelve.

About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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7 Responses to How Young Is Too Young?

  1. beetleypete says:

    I have seen documentaries made about this, on the BBC. But I always wanted to ask the question. If the legal age of sexual consent is 16 or 18, but you are allowed to marry a girl of 14, do you get arrested for having sex with your wife?
    Joking aside, it is just a way for older guys to abuse ‘sexy’ teens. We all know that, and the law has to be changed. For myself, I cannot imagine how I would spend an evening with a 14 year-old girl. Sex can only last so long, so what do you do after that?
    Watch her message her friends on Snapchat?
    It’s crazy.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toritto says:

      Hi Pete. The obstacles to an absolute minimum age to marry are many – from the “sanctity of Marriage,” Mary was only 8, pregnancy and the anti-abortion folks. “Better she gets married than has an abortion.” But there is clearly something suspicious about any guy in his 40s who marries a 16 year old. These kids drop out of school, the marriage doesn’t last and lives are ruined. Regards from Florida.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I had just read a long article on this. I remember Jerry Lee Lewis marrying his 13 year old cousin. Thanks for sharing this with a larger audience.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. GP Cox says:

    Physically and mentally, most humans have not matured before 18 – no matter how mature they believe they are.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. exoticnita54 says:

    Unbelievable…

    And these poor young girls has to endure such plight with these older men…

    Such a shame that the law doesn’t put in effect a better policy to protect these unfortunate children from the abuse of these sick men….

    Liked by 1 person

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