Since 2018 Democrats have attempted to propose legislation to establish the minimum age of marriage in the state as 18-years-old, but it never made any progress. Now that they are in the majority, lawmakers have reintroduced the bill with hopes that it will make progress this time around.
Michigan currently doesn’t have a minimum age requirement for marriage. If a 16-year-old wants to get married, that person could with the written consent of one parent or guardian. But younger children must get permission from a judge in addition to written consent from a parent.
Between 2000 and 2021, over 5,400 children – some as young at 14-years-old – have been married in Michigan. Ninety-five percent of those marriages were between adolescent girls and older men, Unchained at Last, an organization that advocates for ending child marriage, reported.
“Marriage is a really serious contract and shouldn’t be entered into lightly,” said Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Okemos) who is one of the sponsors for the bill. The bill, she said, “will have an impact on primarily girls being coerced into marital contracts before they’re of age.”
Advocates of ending child marriage including Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt) and Sen. Anthony (D-Lansing) held a press conference on March 16 where Courtney Kosnik of Sterling Heights, detailed her experience being married at 16-years-old.
“Unfortunately I also did not have a parent who understood what she was asking me to do,” Kosnik said during the press conference. “We were poor and he came from a better-off family.”
Kosnik was married to a 28-year-old man and she went through physical, emotional and sexual abuse for 23 years, she said. “I lost precious years of my life to a situation that should’ve never been allowed to occur.”
Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) introduced a similar bill in 2018 as a state representative, that would make marriage void if both parties were younger than 18-years-old, but it died in committee.
Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt), who is one of the sponsors of the new bill, told Bridge it died the first time around because Republicans wanted exceptions included for minors who were pregnant or emancipated.
Graham Filler (R-Duplain Township) who has also sponsored bills that would end child marriage in the past, was one who wanted exceptions. Bridge reached out to him for comment, but he could not be reached before publication of this article. His office confirmed that he supports ending child marriage.
As for Hope,“we proposed a bill with no exceptions,” she said. “Just because (a kid) happens to be emancipated doesn’t mean that they’re ready for marriage. Their status as an emancipated minor doesn’t prevent them from being abused.”
If a child does get married, they are automatically emancipated, according to state law. Parents no longer have an obligation to financially support their emancipated minor, which is one of the reasons why minors are forced into marriage, Fraidy Reiss, founder and executive director of Unchained at Last, told Bridge.
“We have seen parents marry off their child forcefully so that they can get out of a child support obligation or get out of a child custody battle,” she said. “Once a child is emancipated, none of that is relevant anymore.” Reiss herself experienced a forced marriage to a stranger in her ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in New York City.
Opponents of the bill argue that children who become pregnant at a young age should be allowed to marry because it provides more stability for the child.
According to the United Nation, girls who are forced into marriage most likely become pregnant at a young age which puts them at more risk of complications during their pregnancy or childbirth.
“Any year that goes by that we allow child marriage is a year that we’ve failed kids in Michigan,” said Hope. “It [child marriage] certainly is sexual abuse and there is no reason for the state of Michigan to allow this to continue.”