Swanson: Child Marriage in America


By Gavin Swanson, Opinion Writer

It came as a surprise, to me, to hear that child marriage is still a problem in western civilization. It surprised me even further to learn that it was all legal and the people who engage in it do so with the law on their side. Generally, the legal age of marriage in America is 18. However, every state has exceptions and allows under-aged marriages to occur regardless of age. These exceptions include parental consent, pregnancy and judicial consent. This has resulted in nearly half of the states in the country to have no minimum age for marriage.

I would hope most of us find that disturbing. The fact that we live in an America where a 12-year-old can marry a 40-year-old because a judge said it was cool by him should put off most people who see an issue with child marriage. The fact of the matter is that there is a system in place allowing adults to wed children, and it’s very easy to manipulate.

27 states do have some sort of minimum age requirement for their exceptions. They all range from 13 to 17 and prevent any marriage from taking place before then no matter the circumstance. It’s a step in the right direction and is leagues ahead of the 23 states that allow you to marry whoever you want regardless of age if you meet an exception. However, even with age restrictions in place the bending of rules allows fully grown adults to take advantage of children who will go into the situation and begin their lives as a spouse before they can experience life as an independent adult.

These exceptions to the 18-year-old minimum age only allow the adults who wish to marry these children a way to access them, even if through illegal means. One of the most popular exceptions is pregnancy. If a 40-year-old manages to get a 14-year-old pregnant, they can get married. This, despite statutory rape being illegal in America, if used to secure marriage, suddenly seems to make smooth things over within the justice system.

That’s why this year, in Florida, there is a proposed bill that allows marriage to occur at 17, but the difference in age between spouses can’t exceed two years. This way if childhood marriage is to happen, it happens to someone no younger than 19. We should strive to push for common sense and less exploitative marriage laws in America that protect children and ensure they can live lives that are not chained down by a marriage they were locked into before they could even pass their driver’s test.