Virginia Takes a Stand
Though one of the few states with active legislation against child marriages where a child has been unwillingly wed, Virginia still has a child marriage problem. Between 2004 and 2013, some 4,500 children younger than 18 were married, and more than 200 of them were younger than 15.
But why is child marriage still a problem in the United States in the 21st century? According to Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel (R) of Virginia, it was a lack of awareness. Aside from the viral video we wrote about several months ago that brought the reality of child marriage in America to light, a recent case of statutory rape and forced marriage in Virginia brought the issue to the Senator’s attention.
In this recent case, a man in his 50s was accused of having sex with a high school student, but before legal action could be taken, the man is believed to have charmed or coerced the girl’s parents into giving him permission to marry their daughter. “Now they’re married, and there’s no crime. She dropped out of high school. Her life is ruined,” said Vogel, who is running for lieutenant governor.
This case and the related horrors of child and forced marriages inspired Vogel to help sponsor and successfully pass a bill protecting minors. The law took effect Friday July 1st, and here’s what it says…
Sanctity of Marriage
Now, regardless of teen pregnancy or parental desires, the minimum marriage age in Virginia is 18, or 16 for individuals who have been emancipated by court order.
Jeanne Smoot of the Tahirih Justice Center said, “We hope that legislators will see the efforts in Virginia as a wake-up call about how their laws can facilitate forced marriages of children.”
This type of legal action is exactly what every state in the country should adopt, thus keeping marriage legal for adults only while protecting the integrity of children and closing any existing loopholes that permit duplicitous and forced marriages under the eyes of the law. Such a law is even more important in states like Texas and Utah where isolated fundamentalist groups and sects engage in child marriage, polygamous, or pedophiliac practices behind closed doors where law enforcement is unaware of what’s happening.
At the end of the day, marriage should be a practice reserved for consenting adults, regardless of gender, orientation, skin color, or background. It’s ludicrous that in 2016, we are battling over the right for two consenting men or women to marry each other while children as young as 12 are being sold off in forced marriages right under our noses. Child marriage practices in the United States are just another example of how Americans need to get our priorities straight.
Other states currently introducing similar bills to Virginia are New Jersey, California, Maryland, and New York.
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