Child marriage to be banned in New Jersey

family law

New Jersey is set to become the first American state to completely outlaw child marriage.

This week the state’s legislator approved a bill which would ban anyone under the age of 18 from marriage without exception. The measure passed by a 26-5 margin and will become state law once it is signed by Governor Chris Christie.

Currently all 50 states allow under-18s to marry if they have parental permission. In rare circumstances, New Jersey also allows those younger than 15 years old to do so if they receive the approval of an appellate court judge.

Democratic State Senator Nellie Pou, one of the bill’s sponsors, called marriage a legal contract which “should be reserved for adults”. She said it was “startling for people to learn that there are many underage marriages happening here in New Jersey”. The bill will take steps to fulfil the state’s “responsibility to protect our residents, and moral obligation to protect children” she insisted.

Not everyone was convinced the measure was necessary. Republican State Senator Michael Doherty claimed that 97 per cent of marriages by under-18s in the so-called Garden State were by 16 and 17 year-olds. He suggested many of those were young people who “enter adulthood much earlier” by joining the armed forces.

However the bill was welcomed by campaign group Girls Not Brides USA. Co-chair Lyric Thompson said it was “important to combat the idea that Americans have that this is an ‘over there’ problem”. People must understand that child marriage is “an everywhere problem, including right in our backyard”.

Other states are beginning to follow New Jersey’s lead. Lawmakers in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland and Missouri are all discussing the possibility of similar legislation according to PBS News.

Photo by Pete via Flickr under the Public Domain.

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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