New Jersey Governor rejects child marriage ban

family law

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has refused to sign a bill which would make child marriage illegal in the state.

The proposed legislation would have eliminated all exceptions to the minimum marriage age of 18 and would have made the so-called ‘Garden State’ the first in the US to do so.

Throughout the United States, 18 years old is the most common age at which people can legally marry. The only two states where this is not the case are Nebraska, which has a minimum age of 19, and Mississippi, where it is 21. However, in every state the law will allow underage weddings to take place under certain circumstances. These vary but usually include parental or judicial consent.

The measure was sent to the Governor after it was approved by both houses of the State Legislature but late last week Christie, a vocal supporter of Donald Trump, conditionally vetoed it. This means he would not sign it into law as it was currently worded, but does not rule out the possibility that he would sign a slightly amended version of the bill at a later date. If he had used an outright veto, lawmakers would have to draft a completely new piece of legislation on this issue rather than making changes to this one.

In a statement shortly afterwards, Christie explained that he had made this decision because the proposal would “violate the cultures and traditions of some communities in New Jersey based on religious traditions” if it became state law although he did not specify which religions he had in mind.

His conditional veto has been criticised by Unchained At Last, a US-based campaign group which works to end child marriage. The organisation helped put the now-rejected bill together. Speaking to a local radio station, Executive Director Fraidy Reis called Christie’s refusal to sign it “shameful”.

She was also dismissive of Christie’s “religious traditions” explanation, asking “has he joined some crazy cult since we last saw him? What is he talking about? Which religion requires child marriage?”

But other supporters of the measure were more hopeful. Republican lawmaker Nancy Munoz, who was the bill’s main sponsor, said that while she was disappointed the rejection was “not an absolute veto, which is good”.

Photo of Chris Christie by Gage Skidmore via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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1 comment

Andrew - May 15, 2017 at 12:51pm

All fifty States recognise marriages in other States if they are valid there which allows many couples to evade their local law – shades of Gretna Green.
I suppose that before the days of railways when most Americans did not live within easy reach of a State line that did not matter. But it certainly makes it difficult now for States to have different laws about the age for marriage or whether for example cousins can marry.

Not many sixteens and seventeens now marry in the UK but they can – and in Scotland without parental permission. Who thinks that should be forbidden?

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