New Jersey is on the verge of becoming the first state in the United States to prohibit anyone younger than 18 from getting married. At present, children ages 16 and 17 may marry with parental consent. Also, children under 16 may marry if they obtain parental consent and a state judge’s approval.
The New Jersey state Senate committee approved a bill on Monday to that effect. If passed, the bill (A3091) would make New Jersey the first state in the nation to remove all exceptions to the law that says people must be 18 years old to get married, reported NJ Advanced Media. The measure passed the state Assembly, 64-0, in November, and Monday’s action sets up a vote for final passage in the full Senate.
Fraidy Reiss of Westfield, founder and executive director of Unchained At Last, a non-profit organization that helps young women and girls leave forced marriages, was quoted as saying the problem is more widespread than people think. Between 1995 and 2012, 3,500 minors got married in New Jersey — some as young as 13. “Some had an age difference (large enough) to make it statutory rape,” Reiss told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The practice is driven by some religiously conservative parents “who do not want their child to have boyfriends or to go to college unattended,” Abed Awad, a legal expert from Hasbrouck Heights who is an expert in religious law, testified. “They want control and decide who their child marries at a young age,” rather than allowing their child to mature and decide, ‘I’m in New Jersey, I’m an American, I’m going to college. I am going to decide who I marry.”
There is some opposition to the measure. State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Warren), who voted against the bill, insisted there should be exceptions to the law, arguing for people enlisting in the military, saying they often marry young. He also raised the possibility of teenage girls who get pregnant before the age of 18, want to tie the knot, and would find it hard to get health insurance on her own. However, the committee voted 10-1 to pass the bill, with state Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Monmouth) abstaining.