Delaware Bans Child Marriage
May 13, 2018 8:34 AM   Subscribe

On Wednesday, Delaware became the first U.S. state to totally ban people from marrying where one (or both) are under the age of 18. There are two reasons usually cited for forcing a child into marriage: if someone is pregnant, or religious reasons. But no major religion promotes child marriage. And in some states, there is no minimum age to marriage. Wedlocked is a Teen Vogue series about child marriage in the United States that examines the history of the practice and its modern realities. Also see: PBS Frontline: Child Marriage in America

Children under 18 have no legal standing — they cannot file for divorce, utilize a domestic violence shelter, apply for a loan or open a credit card," [Delaware] Representative Williams [(D)] said in a statement. "They cannot enter any legal contract, but until this bill was signed, they could be married as a child without any way of escaping an abusive marriage. Now that we have closed this loophole in Delaware law, children will be protected from forced marriage and its dangerous consequences. I am so proud that Delaware is leading the way to protect children, and I hope that other states follow suit."


Wedlocked (From 2017)
* Child Marriage in the United States, Explained
* What Most People Get Wrong About Religion and Child Marriage
* I Was Married At 14
* Most Minors Who Are Married Can't File for Divorce — Even if They Want To
* How One 17-year-old Tried to End Child Marriage in Her State She is a Girl Scout: Cassandra Levesque.
* Marriage for Those Under 18 Is Legal in EVERY STATE in the U.S. (This is now 2% outdated.)
* More Than 1 in 5 Women Are Married Before They're 18 in Mexico
* How YOU Can Help End Child Marriage in the U.S.

2018
* New Study on Child Marriage Is Changing the Conversation. (Researchers are using Census data to paint a more complete picture of child marriage in the U.S.)
* Florida Pushes to Prohibit Child Marriage With Help From Survivor Sherry Johnson (Previously on MeFi)
* Texas Bans Child Marriage with the exception of 16- and 17-year-olds who are legally emancipated from their parents
* New York State Legislature Votes to End Child Marriage ("Child marriage is coerced marriage.")
* Delaware Became the First State to Ban Child Marriage and New Jersey Could Be Next. Activists with Unchained at Last successfully pushed for the Delaware law; they want all 50 states to pass similar laws.

2016
* The Best and Worst Countries to Be A Girl, Ranked by Save The Children. (Find out which countries are the best and worst to live as a girl as ranked by Save the Children, and see which issues are affecting girls in the world today.)

Resources
* Unchained at Last
* Save the Children
* Tahirih Justice Center
* Girls Not Brides
* Sanctuary for Families
* 16 Organizations Working To Stop Child Marriage

The PBS Frontline show was highlighted in a MeFi post by melissasaurus in 2015.
posted by zarq (37 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
The link under "no major religion promotes child marriage" is a discussion of ways some religious people, their cultures and beliefs
can help perpetuate child marriage in the U.S. Might be worth reading before commenting.
posted by zarq at 8:38 AM on May 13 [10 favorites]


ppsshhh what is it with Delaware and jumping into untested legal territory they don't seem to really understand?
posted by 7segment at 8:43 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


ppsshhh what is it with Delaware and jumping into untested legal territory they don't seem to really understand?
What do you think they don't understand?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:45 AM on May 13 [19 favorites]


Children under 18 have no legal standing — they cannot file for divorce, utilize a domestic violence shelter, apply for a loan or open a credit card," [Delaware] Representative Williams [(D)] said in a statement.

The idea that a child could enter into a marriage that they have no way of escaping is jaw-dropping.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 9:29 AM on May 13 [69 favorites]


Good riddance, this is a practice that has no legitimate reason to exist.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:57 AM on May 13 [13 favorites]


We're working on getting ours up from 13/14 to 16 up here. The push has been spearheaded by a Girl Scout who was working on it for her Gold Award. Of course, a state legislature chose that as a reason to dismiss her out of hand; as pointed out by someone else :

"What they’re saying is, ‘She’s old enough to marry, but not old enough to make decisions about marriage,’” says Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at Last, describing Cassandra, who she met at a protest hosted in Boston. “She’s not old enough to talk about marriage, but she’s old enough to enter into a marriage. It’s completely offensive and illogical and irrational.”

posted by damayanti at 10:07 AM on May 13 [62 favorites]


The idea that a child anyone could enter into a marriage that they have no way of escaping is jaw-dropping.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:09 AM on May 13 [19 favorites]


OK forgive my ignorance as a non-American but...
you don't become an emancipated minor when you marry before 18? I think that's how it works in my country.

How was that not immediately flagged as a human rights issue/ brought to the Supreme Court bazillion years ago? /scratches forehead
posted by M. at 10:53 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


How was that not immediately flagged as a human rights issue

America.
posted by klanawa at 11:03 AM on May 13 [29 favorites]


How was that not immediately flagged as a human rights issue/ brought to the Supreme Court bazillion years ago?

I have some bad news about America, are you sitting down?

(Alabama was upholding anti-miscegination law as late as 2009..)
posted by cj_ at 11:07 AM on May 13 [22 favorites]


(Alabama was upholding anti-miscegination law as late as 2009)

WHAAAAAAAAT ?!?!
posted by M. at 11:08 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


you don't become an emancipated minor when you marry before 18? I think that's how it works in my country.

There was apparently some special provision in my state for married women as of 1972, so my mother (16) did have legal status as an adult, but my father (18 when 21 was still technically age of adulthood) did not, at least for some purposes. My mother was very much amused by this. I don't remember details about what kinds of things she could sign and he couldn't, though. I would expect this has always varied by state.
posted by dilettante at 11:09 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Okay, trying to. The justice involved was sued and lost. Still, I think people fatally overestimate how fast the rest of the backwards parts of the country take to catch up, if ever.
posted by cj_ at 11:11 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


The only reason I didn't spill my drink all over my keyboard was that I had to look up "anti-miscegination".

Wow. In America, in 2009? That's just... sick. I really thought the US was better than that.
posted by M. at 11:12 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


Anti-miscegenation laws became unenforceable in 1967 with the Supreme Court case Loving V. Virginia. Nonetheless, it took South Carolina until 1998 and Alabama until 2000 to amend their states' constitutions to remove language prohibiting miscegenation.

In 2009, Keith Bardwell, a justice of the peace in Robert, Louisiana, refused to officiate a civil wedding for an interracial couple. A nearby justice of the peace, on Bardwell's referral, officiated the wedding; the interracial couple sued Keith Bardwell and his wife Beth Bardwell in federal court. After facing wide criticism for his actions, including from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Bardwell resigned on November 3, 2009.

So, not QUITE the same thing as Alabama upholding anti-miscegenation laws, but also not the triumph of modern progressive thought that one might wish for.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 11:24 AM on May 13 [16 favorites]


Nonetheless, it took South Carolina until 1998 and Alabama until 2000 to amend their states' constitutions to remove language prohibiting miscegenation.

It was 2000 for Mississippi, too.

ppsshhh what is it with Delaware and jumping into untested legal territory they don't seem to really understand?

They were the first colony to jump into statehood, and that seems to have worked out OK.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:32 AM on May 13


ppsshhh what is it with Delaware and jumping into untested legal territory they don't seem to really understand?

What do you think they don't understand?

They were the first colony to jump into statehood, and that seems to have worked out OK.


pretty sure that was the joke
posted by stinkfoot at 11:56 AM on May 13 [15 favorites]


While it's easy to jump on the US about child marriages, it's a worldwide phenomenon. In the US, the problem isn't the normal age of marriage (which is 18, 19, or 21 depending on state), but there are exemption based on common factors (parents, pregnancy, permission of court), which are depressingly familiar. Most provinces in Canada allow down to 16 based on those factors. France, Germany, the Netherlands, and nearly all European countries allow the same (usually, but not universally, using 16 as the hard limit). Pakistan has a marriageable age limit that is widely ignored.

Although this manifests in a very American way here in America, this is an issue in most countries across the globe, as long as your parents give permission. There are exceeding few nations that do not allow anyone to get married below their legal adulthood age.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:17 PM on May 13 [9 favorites]


I really thought the US was better than that.

I used to, but I started reading this blog written by an escapee of US Christian fundamentalist culture. If you want to know more about how this happens here and a bunch of other horrifying stuff that we need to fix, she's an excellent source.

(I first really became aware of this because of her posts about Maranatha. Trigger warning: sexual assault/grooming/etc.)
posted by mordax at 12:25 PM on May 13 [18 favorites]


When I was 15, my first boyfriend, who was 17, cheated on me with a girl who was also 15. Her family was planning on moving out of state, so they thought it would be a Great Idea to get pregnant so they could stay together. His super Catholic family forced them to get married. In an ending which surprises exactly no one, they're both married to other people now.

They were dumb kids who hadn't really thought about the Consequences of their actions and were in no way prepared for marriage, although I will admit that their kids turned out pretty well. Marriage wasn't part of their Great Idea and they were just as surprised as the rest of us. So good on Delaware. I hope more states follow.
posted by Ruki at 12:53 PM on May 13 [10 favorites]


How does this shake out for non-adults getting married outside Delaware? I can't remember what the ultimate result of full faith and credence that played out over gay marriage.

M.: "How was that not immediately flagged as a human rights issue/ brought to the Supreme Court bazillion years ago? /scratches forehead"

I've scratched my head on this a few times regard drinking age.
posted by Mitheral at 12:55 PM on May 13 [4 favorites]


How was that not immediately flagged as a human rights issue/ brought to the Supreme Court bazillion years ago? /scratches forehead

relatedly, here is a 2013 look at why the US is not a signatory to ratifier of the UN Charter on Human Rights Convention on the Rights of the Child. In particular from my perspective as an adoptee, this helps enable the US' state-by-state denial of full human rights to adoptees via the embargoing and prohibition on adoptee access to birth identity, something explicitly defined as a human right in the CRC. I'm sure the state-by-state style of regulating underage marriage is similarly problematic.
posted by mwhybark at 1:35 PM on May 13 [8 favorites]


I am so confused. The right wingers insisted that once same-sex marriage was allowed, it would be completely impossible to regulate marriage in any way (e.g. a man could marry his dog!). And yet somehow Delaware pulled this off. It's almost like they were lying.
posted by great_radio at 2:48 PM on May 13 [31 favorites]


While it's easy to jump on the US about child marriages, it's a worldwide phenomenon.

Yes, and the idea that a teenager is a child is a fairly new concept. People didn't go to university in droves: they got married very early because of life expectancy, lack of social supports and programs, and societal confines at the time. It was about the survival of the in-group. If you take our biology seriously, girls begin to menstruate when they are biologically ready to give birth.

Humans are prone to be territorial, and didn't have medical advances back in the day, either. There were wars, famines, illnesses, and elements that killed infants, meaning you had to start early and have them often.

The technological and medical advances liberated women from this biologically-imposed prison. You can put off having children and never have to get married to succeed these days. Society evolved faster than our bodies did. Child marriage is an artifact in the West -- but should there be some sort of lasting catastrophe, it could snap back into being seen as a desirable option at any time. I don't delude myself about that.

That said, child marriage was a strategy to ensure the one giving birth was kept in place in a time when women were considered property of their husbands, and their value was in ensuring the next generation was produced and there were enough numbers to fend off any territorial challenge by outsiders. It is a different time, and the laws should reflect that ideological advancement, but we shouldn't forget why we had child marriage in the first place because history denied is history repeated.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 3:49 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


This was a great post. Thank you.
posted by k8t at 3:59 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Actually, child marriage is *not* biologically optimal. Teen or preteen girls tend to have more complications and miscarriages. As for menstruation, on a lower protein/lower calorie diet, girls menstruate later. So there is actually never a time when having babies at 12 was a good thing, species-wise.

Child marriage has historically been largely about securing property (and virginity, which prevents an interloper inheriting) not biology.
posted by emjaybee at 4:09 PM on May 13 [61 favorites]


This was a fantastic post. And also I really needed that good news today. Thank you.
posted by greermahoney at 4:17 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


People didn't go to university in droves: they got married very early because of life expectancy, lack of social supports and programs, and societal confines at the time. It was about the survival of the in-group. If you take our biology seriously, girls begin to menstruate when they are biologically ready to give birth.

This is somewhat of a misconception. Marriage ages, even in historical eras, varied widely -- for example, the Western European marriage pattern (observed as early as the 16th century or even before that) involved women marrying, on average, in their mid-20s. The marriage age of noble women (whose marriages were explicitly about alliances) are an exception, not a rule. Part of the problem is that the era everyone regards as traditional today (the 1950s) is an incredible anomaly. In the US, the universal institution of high school actually led to a decline in the average marriage age, since it created a clear 'coming of age' ritual and was an environment in which young women and men mixed freely.

Even in regions that practiced child marriage, it's not necessarily the case historically that girls gave birth at a young age. I remember an anthropologist talking to older women in a part of China that practiced arranged marriages in the early 20th century -- she noted that many women had a long gap between marriage and giving birth, and mentioned one woman who said that she and her husband were too ashamed to even look at each other in private for almost a decade.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 5:09 PM on May 13 [48 favorites]


I have tangled thoughts about this.

I want an end to adult male predators seeking out vulnerable young not-yet-women to shape into their lifelong servant. But I also don't like the ever-growing concept that a person age 17 has no more legal rights or agency than one who's 8. And the stigma of unwed motherhood is much stronger in some communities than others; I don't know if this law provides any support for them. (Does Delaware not recognize underage marriages done in other states, or is there going to be a regular occurrence of teen girls dragged to Pennsylvania to get married?)

I don't know if we could get similar value from a law that says "an adult having sex with a minor is rape - regardless of whether they're married." (Probably not. Even if enforceable, which it wouldn't be, it wouldn't remove the grooming-for-servitude aspects. But I am wary of laws about sex that boil down to "we must protect the purity of our young girls.")

This is good news; yay!

So... what are they doing help the teenage girls who get pregnant? Increase numbers of paternity tests and child support payments? (To minors? Who can't even have bank accounts on their own?)

Regarding the "religious beliefs" claim - I believe that boils down to, "Christians believe sex outside of marriage is wrong, ergo if a teen girl is having sex - or has had sex, as shown by her pregnancy - she must get married ASAP." And um. No. No, that is not a reason for her to be pushed into a lifelong contract. If that's what's required by a religion, she can have a "spiritual marriage;" the two can pledge fidelity and love to each other, live together chastely, and wait until she's 18 to have that bond recognized by the state so they can legally have sex.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:09 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


One of the arguments made during the same-sex marriage debate was that marriage empowers people by giving them a right to act on each other's behalf (e.g., authorising medical treatment); another was that it protects the vulnerable party in a relationship by recognising a shared interest in marital property. I think those considerations apply to child marriage too.

On the other hand, I think that child marriage is often used to constrain the parties (who might otherwise separate) and who have less legal capacity to do things like make contracts in any case. And as a practical matter, it seems to be used to authorise things like adult-child sex that would otherwise be illegal. The negatives seem more weighty than the positives IMO.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:17 PM on May 13 [6 favorites]


So... what are they doing help the teenage girls who get pregnant? Increase numbers of paternity tests and child support payments?

I think this begs the question: it assumes that (pre-)teenage girls who get pregnant are going to have substantial support if they are legally married which will be withdrawn if they are not married. This could be true on occasion, but, as one of the articles above makes clear, not all teenage girls who are married are pregnant at the time. There's also the added complication that pretty much all these underage marriages to pregnant girls involve statutory rape.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 7:29 PM on May 13 [12 favorites]


I still remember when the 21 year old who had pushed unwanted sex on me at 16 told me at my 17th birthday that I was now legal in the state of Texas. I was like, what does that mean? I didn't know that I was not "legal" but he very much did, as in he told me later he had literally gotten kittens to have a reason to invite me to his house and he kept talking about taking his life over his "bad feelings" for me and how he "doesn't like it when he scares his friends" (after doing abusive things) leaving me feeling like acting like his abuse was no big deal was literally saving his life.

I get it that there are (supposedly? reportedly?) nice romances with this age differences, and this colors people's perception I imagine, that they either had one or imagine it's possible to have one-- like how common is it for highschoolers to date 21 years older and older? Probably pretty common? I guess? I can only say I hope this changes both at the legal and cultural level. If you've been out of highschool for three or more years, you should probably not be dating a highschooler let alone 15/16 (or THIRTEEN!!) year old with or without parental permission or legal marriage. And my situation was horrible even at the lower end of the age difference. I can't imagine these laws are permitting 30/40 etc year olds to prey on 13-16 year olds in a "marriage". Even for the sake of the situations where there the more vulnerable party seems to feel ok about it, the risks for serious abuse and lifelong harm seem way out of proportion to permit adults to do this to our young.
posted by xarnop at 8:24 PM on May 13 [7 favorites]


While it's easy to jump on the US about child marriages, it's a worldwide phenomenon.

Down to sixteen (which is also the age at which many other rights are conferred in much of the world, with 18 for a few) is quite different to the US's no lower limit (especially when combined with the rights of adulthood being conferred at a much later age in general).
posted by Dysk at 5:26 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


I grew up in a community where it was very common for 13yr old girls to talk about their plan to be pregnant and married before they turned 16. These plans always involved an adult man who "had a good job." One of my 15yr old friends married a man who was almost 40. These girls are trapped by far more than just laws about bank accounts and divorce.


One of the arguments made during the same-sex marriage debate was that marriage empowers people by giving them a right to act on each other's behalf (e.g., authorising medical treatment); another was that it protects the vulnerable party in a relationship by recognising a shared interest in marital property. I think those considerations apply to child marriage too.

Yeah, another argument about same-sex marriage was 2 consenting adults, which doesn't apply to child marriage.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 6:45 AM on May 14 [11 favorites]


I would be entirely comfortable with 21 being the lower limit for any party to marry. 18 is still very young. Younger than that should be beyond the pale. And girls who are pregnant before age 18 should have access to any and all resources they need, regardless of their relationship (or lack of it) to the person they got pregnant with.

The only reason that things are not already this way is that our laws take as a given that girls/women are essentially property and that possession/use of same is regulated differently state to state, just like with any other property.

It's important to differentiate between age to marry and age of consent, though. Marriage is a contract. Consenting to sex is a personal decision. I'm in favor of counseling for people under the age of 18 who have sex with much younger people (so like a 18-year-old and 15-year-old), and penalties for people 21 and over who have sex with people under 18.
posted by emjaybee at 8:30 AM on May 14 [6 favorites]


"Alabama - Slavery free since 1953"
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 7:56 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I have to say given The Tale keeps popping up in adds, I often wonder how often people's memories of being the younger person in one of these "romances" actually matches what happened to them- as in if they are being true to themselves or even understood what was happening at the time and are willing to face the ways it might have been abusive and unfair that they didn't understand because they were children/teens at the time.

It's easier to just think it's fine, I think- at least it has been for me at times in my life. I have no idea how it works for others but I wonder how many people trying to act like it was fine when they were statutory raped, or it wasn't abuse etc really had the positive experience they say they had. It could be a lot, maybe not as many, I don't know.

It does seem like it would matter to examine this closer since it clouds public judgement on how to handle these types of situations as abuse vs a gray area to ignore which leads us to allow abuse of our teens in my opinion. It's EXTREMELY hard to judge someone you looked up to and valued highly on these behaviors when you want very badly to keep a positive view of them and it's completely jarring to face that kind and good people can do something that is ultimately abusive however they framed it to themselves and those they have abused.

And I think our culture feeds the idea these issues are too complicated to make judgements on making the adults who prey on teens and preteens feel like they ARE genuinely having a relationship and what they are doing is fair and ok. But to me when you look closer at the reality of being in a teen (let alone preteen) in this situation and reality of the age difference it gets more and more disturbing.
posted by xarnop at 6:10 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]


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