Newly signed state laws aim to protect Michigan children from sexual abuse by setting a no-exceptions minimum marriage age of 18—and ensuring that marriages don’t continue in secret. Republican lawmakers fought back against the reforms.
MICHIGAN—Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation this week to protect Michigan children from predators, namely by outlawing any form of child marriage across the state.
“Keeping Michiganders safe and healthy is one of my top priorities, and today’s bipartisan bills will build on our efforts to protect young people—especially young women—from abuse,” Whitmer said in a statement announcing the newly signed laws on Tuesday morning.
Bills signed into law by Whitmer in July created a no-exceptions minimum marriage age of 18. Before this year, Michigan was among seven states with no legal minimum age for marriage.
The three new bills signed this week—House Bills 4294, 4295, and 4296—updated portions of existing state law, which will effectively allow for the recent child marriage ban to take effect.
Specifically, HB 4294 formally deletes the provision that had allowed 16- and 17-year-old children to consent to marriage and obtain a marriage license. And HB 4295 prohibits secret child marriages, which are done when an official marriage record is sealed from public view.
HB 4296 also ensures that any minor who is currently married does not lose their spousal benefits, since the legislation in July effectively voided all existing marriages involving children.
“As a 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 strengthen protections for children,” Whitmer said.
In a statement, State Rep. Alabas Farhat (D-Dearborn) labeled child marriage as “cruel.”
“Abusive adults take advantage of minor children, setting them up for a life of torment,” he said.
State Rep. Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City) said the legislation is “just common sense.”
“There are many aspects of our society that we restrict to legal adults—voting, signing contracts and more. It’s well past time for marriage to join that list,” Coffia said in a statement on Tuesday.
Whitmer said she also intends to sign HB 4302 from state Rep. Joey Andrews (D-St. Joseph), which would amend the state’s penal code to delete any references to spouses under age 16.
“As a new father, I share in the worries of every parent, the foremost of which is making sure my daughter is safe and healthy. Banning child marriage is an overdue step in that direction,” Andrews said in a statement this week. “Child marriage is the domain of sexual predators and their enablers, and I’m proud to be part of erasing it from Michigan statute.”
Under Michigan’s old state laws, more than 5,400 kids got married between 2001 and 2021—nearly all of them younger teenage girls who married far older men, research shows. Several previous versions of the child marriage ban were introduced when Republicans controlled the legislature in Michgian, but they were all left to languish in various committees.
Before the initial child marriage ban legislation made it to Whitmer’s desk this summer, it also faced 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.
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