A new state law aims to protect Michigan children from sexual abuse by setting a no-exceptions minimum marriage age of 18. Five Republican lawmakers voted against protecting kids.
MICHIGAN—It’s officially illegal in Michigan for children to get married, either to each other or to an older adult, under long-sought legislation signed on Tuesday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
“Keeping Michiganders—especially young women—safe and healthy is a top priority, and these bills will take long overdue steps to protect individuals from abuse,” Whitmer said in a statement. “As a (former) county prosecutor, I went after those who used their power to prey on young people, and as governor, I am proud to sign legislation to sign these protections into law.”
Before this week, Michigan was one of seven states with no legal minimum age for marriage.
The law allowed for 16- and 17-year-olds to get married with parental consent, and for younger children to get married if they had approval from a judge, in addition to permission from a parent. Under those rules, more than 5,400 Michigan kids got married between 2000 and 2021—nearly all of them being younger, teenage girls who married far older, adult men, research shows.
State Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) has been creeped out by the statistics for years, but was only able to move the changes forward after Democrats took charge of the legislature this year.
Previous versions of the bills, introduced when Republicans controlled the legislature, were left to languish in legislative committees.
“Since first introducing a bill to end child marriage in 2018, I have heard countless stories, particularly from our young girls, of abuse they have endured in marriages they could not by themselves legally consent to,” Anthony said in a statement. “For years, efforts to end child marriage were shelved by those in power, and for years our children suffered. Standing up for children should be a nonpartisan issue. By enacting this law today, we are protecting our young ones and sending a clear message that child abuse in any form is unacceptable in our state.”
Senate Bill 209, and several other related bills signed by Whitmer this week, were expressly designed to protect children from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. In addition to prohibiting future marriages, Anthony’s bill also voids all existing marriages involving children.
Senate Bill 212 and 216, sponsored by state Sen. Veronica Klinefelt (D-Eastpointe) and Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), removes provisions in state law that allow parents and guardians to consent to a minor’s marriage. Senate Bill 213 and House Bill 4299—from Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) and Rep. Kristian Grant (D-Grand Rapids)—also removes provisions in state law that allow for minors to use their marriage licenses as sole proof of emancipation.
“It’s long past due that we fix our archaic child marriage laws in Michigan. Under the current rules, it is far too common for teenage girls to marry older men, potentially losing their opportunity for true independence and growth,” Grant said. “This is common sense, and will finally be the law of the land thanks to strong support from both sides of the aisle.”
House Bill 4300, from Rep. Jenn Hill (D-Marquette) also allows parents to apply for an annulment of marriages if one of their children was married under the legal age of consent.
“Hearing from survivors of child marriage about what they’ve been through has been devastating and heartbreaking,” Hill said in a statement. “For a long time, the government has needed to step in and end this archaic practice to protect the children of our state.”
Before the child marriage ban made it to Whitmer’s desk this week, however, it faced some opposition in the state House, where five Republican state representatives voted against every bill in the package: Reps. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers), Neil Friske (R-Charlevoix), Matt Maddock (R-Milford), Angela Rigas (R-Caledonia), and Josh Schriver (R-Oxford).
Maddock told Newsweek that he voted against the new law because he wanted “exceptions” to be made to the new minimum age—namely because his mother-in-law was married as a child. Rigas has also cited a child marriage in her family in defending her opposition to the legislation.
Last month, those same five lawmakers also voted against record-breaking investments in Michigan’s public schools. But like the child marriage ban, it was passed without their support.
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