The unintended consequences of banning marriage for underage kids (Opinion)
Could be coming through the legislature any time now. There's a proposal to change NJ law regarding marriage. Currently, kids who are 16 and 17 can get married in the Garden State if they have the consent of their parents. Under 16? No problem, just get both parents consent and a judge to allow it.
There has been a lot of noise coming from advocacy groups, largely from a woman who was forced by her family & community to marry a man despite her objections. The interesting thing about this so-called advocate against child marriage is she was not a child when the arranged marriage took place. She was nearly 20 years old. That said, it's one thing to oppose forced, arranged marriages. It's entirely another to be opposed to marriages for kids younger than 18. In classic New Jersey political fashion, the knee jerk reaction is to grab on to one story, one victim and a statistic and create a new law.
There were a reported 3,500 marriages among kids younger than 18 in New Jersey from 1995 through 2012. Of those, 163 were children 13-15. This statistic as a number isn't good or bad. It's a number. Why did the marriages take place? Were the kids pregnant and seeking an option other than adoption or abortion? Was the marriage forced by parents and religion? Taking out the small portion of kids under 16, the rest were 16 and 17. After a conversation with Mary Tasy from New Jersey Right To Life and State Senator Mike Doherty, there's an entirely different side of the discussion that isn't being discussed.
How many young men join the military after High School with a younger girlfriend? What happens if the 18 year old service member gets his 17 year old girlfriend pregnant? Without the ability to marry, the young mom will have no access to the father's health care or any visitation on a base or place of deployment. Why would NJ pass a law that could potential split apart loving families who want to do the right thing for their children?
What about the teens who want to choose to keep their babies? Doesn't it stand to reason that in this case it's better that the kid doesn't start off in a broken home? The possibility of forced marriages and domestic abuse is real. The idea of having government preventing abuse and protecting victims is a laudable goal. However, to categorize all marriages among teens as abusive negative situations is wrong, dishonest and dangerous. There is no issue clarifying the law, perhaps raising the age to 16 and making religious exemptions provided that there is no evidence of minors being forced.
Marriage should be celebrated and encouraged. Kids need structure in their lives and pregnant teens who want to provide for their babies need all the help they can get. New Jersey can be a leader in this issue by creating a law that both empowers young couples who want to marry and protecting teen moms from being isolated and forced to make decisions about their pregnancy that they don't want to make.
Bill Spadea is on the air weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m., talkin’ Jersey, taking your calls at 1-800-283-1015. Tweet him @NJ1015 or @BillSpadea. The opinions expressed here are solely those of Bill Spadea.
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