New York outlaws child marriage

As I noted recently, child marriage in the U.S. is not only far more common than you think, but in many states there’s no minimum age for marriage if a judge assents. As Human Rights Watch notes:

The vast majority of US states permit marriage under age 18 under some circumstances. In 27 US states, there is no limit to how young a child can marry if a judge authorizes the marriage.

27 states! Well, New York has taken a step forward, raising the age of consent from 14 (!) to 18, or 17 with a judge’s and parents’ permission. (HuffPo still beefs about the provision that can allow marriage at 17, saying that “it still doesn’t protect girls”, and noting that “As it stands, minors are still vulnerable to many of the negative consequences linked to child marriage. Human rights groups say that every year a girl is able to push off marriage is crucial. [Child marriage affects boys, but to a much lesser degree than it affects girls.]”). I suppose HuffPo would like the age raised to 21 or even 25, but from 14 to 18 is still a huge improvement.

CBS News adds this:

The previous law, which dates back to 1929, did not provide any guidance to judges on whether to grant consent, Cuomo’s office said.

“We cannot solve the child marriage problem globally if we don’t first solve it here in the United States,” Fraidy Reiss, founder and executive director of the organization Unchained at Lasttold CBS News in May.

Health department data shows that between 2000 and 2010, 3,853 minors were married in New York. Eighty-four percent were minor girls married to adult men.

What are the 27 states without a marriage floor? Here’s a figure (originally from the NYT) that I added to my previous post (link in first sentence above). I’m not sure which “minimum ages” require consent of judges and parents, but it’s unconscionable to allow anyone to marry at 15 or below, and even worse to have no mandated minimum age. It looks as if New York has joined Nebraska and Oregon as the only three states that don’t allow girls younger than 17 to marry.

h/t: Mizrob


  1. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 21, 2017 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    I’d be more comfortable with a judge allowing it at 17 if there were fairly definite guidelines specifying when it is allowed and not merely up to a judge.
    For example, if the 17 year old is capable of earning a living wage due to a prodigious talent of one sort or another, then there might be a basis for allowing it.

    When I lived in England the sister of a good friend of mine got married in her mid-teens and it seemed to be working out. The husband was about 23.
    Still, the thought of this happening widely seems deeply ominous.

    • BJ
      Posted June 21, 2017 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      Many people’s parents today got married around age 17.

  2. Joseph McClain
    Posted June 21, 2017 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    When I was in high school — I’m a 1973 grad — young couples would drive to Maryland to take advantage of the relatively lax laws regarding marriage. I don’t know what they were then, but I seem to remember no waiting period or blood tests, etc. I see Maryland is a “15” state.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 21, 2017 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      Hell, when I was that age, we figured that that, lax drinking laws, and all-night card games was the raison d’être for Kentucky.

  3. Nobody Special
    Posted June 21, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    In the UK, marriage is allowed for 16 and 17 year-olds with parental/guardian consent, but I don’t think that there are any exceptions for younger children to marry – not even religious exceptions.
    I remember reading about Jerry Lee Lewis bringing his child bride (and cousin to boot) to the UK when he toured here in the “50’s. If memory serves, she was 12, but told reporters she was 14, because it sounded more respectable. It didn’t go down too well!
    Still, I cannot but love his music and performances. They don’t make rock stars like that anymore.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 21, 2017 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      I believe that gal was kin to ol’ Jerry Lee, too. Goodness, gracious, can’t imagine that met the standards of British propriety either. 🙂

  4. David Duncan
    Posted June 21, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I once read that as late as the Sixties in Texas a female who wasn’t married by 16 was considered an old maid. (I’m sure there were many exceptions.)

    I think 18 is probably a good limit but we could allow judges to permit marriage at 16. After all, it’s their lives, not ours. Kids have been drinking (legally or illegally), having sex and abortions younger that 18.

    • BJ
      Posted June 21, 2017 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      I agree, 16 is a good cutoff, though I would stipulate that the parents of both parties should also agree that it is acceptable. Perhaps the parents of the 16 year olds know something about them that the law does not.

      But this law is good news.

      • Posted June 21, 2017 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        Laws regarding parental consent vary. That’s how Gretna Green became a popular destination for eloping 16 year olds.

        • BJ
          Posted June 21, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

          I know, I’m just saying how I think it should be put into law.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted June 21, 2017 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

        There should also be a proviso allowing a judge to declare a minor emancipated, so not in need of parental consent — because, you know, effed-up parents.

  5. Posted June 21, 2017 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    HuffPo still beefs about the provision that can allow marriage at 17, saying that “it still doesn’t protect girls”

    So they’d have opposed Linda Sarsour’s marriage then?

    • fizziks
      Posted June 21, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I was going to comment on that. I’m genuinely surprised that HuffPo is not -opposed- to these laws.

  6. Posted June 21, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    My area has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the U.K. so if the marriage age was raised their kids would have to take time off school to attend.

    I can’t see any logic in having the marriage age different from the age of consent. Either raise the age of consent or lower the age at which you can get married.

  7. rickflick
    Posted June 21, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    That’s very good news, even if the law could be a bit stronger. As a New Yorker I’d like to take a tiny, tiny bit of credit. Ahhh. I feel so much better to be an American.

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 21, 2017 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Your second full paragraph is worded in a way that could confuse laws regarding the minimum age for marriage with so-called “age-of-consent” laws — laws that establish the minimum age at which an unmarried person can consent to engage in sexual activity. (Sex with anyone younger involving an adult constitutes statutory rape).

    Every state save Texas sets that age at between 16 and 18.

  9. Posted June 21, 2017 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Question to Americans: Looking at the map, do you see any correlation between marital age laws in various states and the prevailing religion/culture there?

    • Adam M.
      Posted June 22, 2017 at 12:58 am | Permalink

      Not really. Many of the most liberal, more atheist places (California, Washington) have “no age floor” while many conservative, Christian states set a minimum of 16. But then there’s Oregon (very liberal) at 17, New York (liberal) at 14, Texas & Arkansas (very conservative) with no age floor…

      If anything it looks to my geographically ignorant eyes like relatively conservative states are more prone to have age limits, but not by much.

      They do seem to clump together, though…

  10. cherrybombsim
    Posted June 21, 2017 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Texas has raised the age to 18 now. There is an exception for 17-year-olds if they are “emancipated minors.”

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted June 21, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      I would extend it to anyone who broadly meets the general requirements of emancipated minors even if they have not applied for that status.

  11. Posted June 21, 2017 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    • Posted June 21, 2017 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, just meant to post the link. Feel free to delete.

    • Norman99
      Posted June 22, 2017 at 7:18 am | Permalink

      It’s the natural human mating system. It doesn’t make it right but we should understand why these practices exist.

  12. Kevin
    Posted June 21, 2017 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    17 is reasonable. I can’t imagine it would be any less or more successful than 19. A lot of my friends who got married at 19-22 are now all divorced.

    Clearly an age limits is good for avoiding rape, but if it’s successful marriages: probably make the age limit 30 when people have figured out who they hell they are.

    • Posted June 21, 2017 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

      Regardless of beliefs, whenever puberty hits, there ever has been, and will be, sex. Sex education, birth control, etc. is essential for all youngsters before puberty hits.

      Insisting on no sex until marriage is ridiculous and futile. I’m fairly certain that most of us have had ancestors who either married after becoming pregnant became unmarried mothers looked down on by the community for “getting caught”.) Marriage and parenthood by children when they are unprepared for the responsibility should not occur. However, responsibility is not necessarily associated with a particular age. I’ve met youngsters who were more mature than some of their elders.

      There are individuals of age 30, or older, who often are no more mature than youngsters in committing to marriage and parenthood. I
      don’t know the relative proportion of divorce among young marrieds vs. older marrieds, but I know a lot of 30+ year olds who’ve divorced in their middle years.

  13. jay
    Posted June 21, 2017 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    In most states young people (assuming comparable ages) can have sex well below 18, and many do.

    So we’re creating this void where you can have sex but not get married. That does not make sense. Outlawing sex of younger people makes even less sense.

    • jay
      Posted June 21, 2017 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      Thinking further …

      The girl from a young couple (ages 16 and 17 for example) becomes pregnant. They want to get married… but it’s now illegal.

      This is a good idea?????

  14. Laurance
    Posted June 22, 2017 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    Now I’m confused! The colored map tells me that Pennsylvania has no age floor. When did that happen??

    I’m an old fart now, and I was married when I was 20 (my husband was 21). At that time, 1962, my Dad had to do some legal mumbo-jumbo and give permission, because the age for girls was 21.

    (And in those days women could not have our own credit cards. We could be on our husband’s credit card, but we could not have such a thing ourselves. I felt like chattel. People would look to my husband for things that were my business, not to me. Shucks, I didn’t even have my own name any more. I was Mrs. Husband’s-First-Name Husband’s-Last-Name. There was no law requiring that, but it was such a common custom that most people did not know there was no law.)

    Since when was that 21 age floor abolished?

  15. Posted June 22, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    It’s about time!
    One has to realize that the respectable age of marriageability only a couple of hundred years ago was probably about 13. Many people didn’t live much past 40 and an advanced education was a luxury. That’s likely why the laws still exist as they are…No one has bothered to upgrade them to the 20th century.

    These days a young person has a lot to accomplish before (s)he is ready to start a family. People live longer and it takes longer to find a (hopefully) stable source of income. It’s an enormous disadvantage to be starting a family as a teenager….even if one partner is older.

  16. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted June 23, 2017 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    The low bar is set by UN. Seems they could not agree on age of children in the Declaration of Human Rights, but refer to
    “full age”.

    [Part of Article 16:]

    “(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
    (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.”

    But the UNICEF Convention on the Rights of the Child had to define children in a more crisp and consistent – though still nation loophole admitting – manner:

    “The Convention defines a “child” as a person below the age of 18, unless the relevant laws recognize an earlier age of majority. In some cases, States are obliged to be consistent in defining benchmark ages—such as the age for admission into employment and completion of compulsory education; but in other cases the Convention is unequivocal in setting an upper limit—such as prohibiting life imprisonment or capital punishment for those under 18 years of age.”

    [ ]

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