GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan lawmakers hope bills reintroduced on Thursday end child marriage in the state for good.
Survivors turned advocates say child marriage is a vicious cycle that traps kids and robs them of their futures and that Michigan is allowing it to happen.
Courtney Kosnik says she was stuck for 23 years in an abusive marriage that began when she was 16.
“My childhood was abruptly cut short, and my dreams and aspirations were swept aside in favor of a life I would not have chosen for myself,” Kosnik said.
She was a junior in high school with a full ride to college, preparing to study medicine. That changed when she was married to a 28-year-old.
“We were poor,” she explained. “And he came from a better-off family. All it took was a little attention from him in two short months and he had convinced my mother that I should be married.”
She tried to get out for decades but ran into legal barriers every step of the way.
“I went to attorneys. I was told I could not file for divorce in the state of Michigan being 17,” Kosnik said. “I went to domestic abuse shelters. I was told to go home. I was a child. I could not go there.”
“I lost precious years of my life to a situation that should have never been allowed to occur,” she continued.
She finally got a divorce in 2016 but her nightmare didn’t end there.
“My ex-husband attempted to arrange a meeting with our 15-year-old daughter and a 40-year-old man with the intention to groom her and marry her off at 16,” Kosnik said. “It was then that I realized I had to do something.”
She became part of the organized effort to end child marriage, which has made its way to the state Capitol with a package of bills reintroduced Thursday by Sen. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing, and Rep. Kara Hope, D-Holt.
“Child marriage in Michigan has destroyed and derailed the lives of so many adolescents in our state,” Anthony said during a news conference Thursday morning. “In Michigan, children as young as 12 years of age have been married in our state to adults.”
Marriages involving minors are legal in 42 states. In Michigan, those younger than 16 need a parent and a judge’s approval to get married — and there is no minimum age with that approval. At 16 and 17, only parental consent is needed.
The new bills would ban any marriage involving a child under the age of 18.
Three previous efforts over the past five years to ban child marriage have stalled in the state Legislature. Now that Democrats have control in Lansing, they say it’s time to finally break the cycle.
“It’s really baffling why this practice would still be allowed to go on today,” Hope said. “This is not just an outdated law that’s still on the books, this is a practice that still takes place.”
According to Unchained at Last, a group that works to end child marriage, more than 5,400 kids under the age of 18 were married in Michigan between 2000 and 2021.
“The effects for those 5,400 kids are devastating and they last a lifetime,” Hope said. “And they have ripple effects in their families and their communities.”
According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Vital Records Office, most of Michigan’s underage marriages involve girls marrying adult men. Some teens marry men three times their age. One record listed a 15-year-old bride and a 48-year-old groom.
Kosnik says she was able to stop her ex-husband from wedding her 15-year-old daughter to a 40-year-old.
“(My daughter) today finished high school,” Kosnik said. “She is now attending one our nation’s service academies and she will be an officer in our great military, which is her dream. And I’m grateful she gets to do it.”
She urged the Legislature to take up the bills as soon as possible.
“Our state will no longer sanction what the (United Nations) calls a human rights violation,” she said. “We will no longer have girls find themselves trapped in a marriage with no way out.”