LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — A state Senate committee on Tuesday approved two bills that would outlaw child marriages in Michigan.
The bills, sponsored by Republican Sens. Rick Jones of Grand Ledge and Margaret O’Brien of Portage, were inspired by a September Target 8 investigation that revealed Michigan’s current marriage law has no age limit. The investigation found that with approval from parents and judges, girls as young as 14 were getting married, generally to adult men.
“We were shocked when we first learned from WOOD TV in Grand Rapids that we have children as young as 14 being married in the state. This is possible under an 1880s law that allows just one parent to sign a child away — a child that can’t even legally consent to sexual relations in our state…” Jones said Tuesday. “It’s outrageous that young people would be put into this situation.”
In their original forms, the bills set the age limit for marriage at 16, with parental approval, because that’s Michigan’s legal age of consent.
But child marriage opponents with the advocacy group Unchained at Last pointed out that it’s difficult for someone under the age of 18 to take legal action to get a divorce. Additionally, research shows wives under the age of 18 are highly likely to suffer physical abuse. Jones took that to heart and under amendments added to the bills Tuesday, the age limit would be 18.
“You can’t even legally consent to a contract until you are 18,” Jones said. “So why should these children be forced into this situation and live a life of misery?”
The bills still need to earn approval from the full Senate and the House, and gain the signature of the governor.
With less than 10 days left in this legislative session, it seems unlikely that the bills will become law before the end of the year. However, the senator taking over for Jones will take up the bills in January if necessary.
If they pass, Michigan would become only the third state in the nation to ban child marriages. The others are Delaware and New Jersey, both of which did so earlier this year. Unchained at Last was involved in the efforts to outlaw child marriages in those states.