Whitmer signs bill package protecting against child marriages in Michigan

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(The Center Square) – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law three bills that effectively bans marriage of those under 18.

Previously, Michigan residents could get married as young as 16 with parental consent, and someone under 16 could with court approval.

“Keeping Michiganders safe and healthy is one of my top priorities, and today’s bipartisan bills will build on our efforts to protect young people – especially young women – from abuse,” Whitmer said.

Rep. Kara Hope, D-Lansing, sponsored HB 4294, which establishes 18 as the minimum age of consent for marriage.

HB 4295, sponsored by Rep. Alabas Farhat, D-Dearborn, prohibits secret child marriages, when a marriage record is sealed to the public by the courts.

“It’s time for us to ban the cruel practice of child marriage,” Farhat said. “Abusive adults take advantage of minor children, setting them up for a life of torment.”

HB 4296, sponsored by Rep. Betsy Coffia, D-Traverse City, ensures currently married minors do not lose their spousal benefits under the new laws.

“There are many aspects of our society that we restrict to legal adults – voting, signing contracts and more,” Coffia said. “It’s well past time for marriage to join that list.”

More than 5,400 minors were married in Michigan between 2000 and 2021, according to the nonprofit Unchained at Last. More than nine in 10 of the minors were girls, with 12 under the age of 16.

While the bills experienced broad support across both parties, the votes were not unanimous. In the Michigan House of Representatives, for example, HB 4294 passed with a vote of 104-5.

Rep. Angela Rigas, R-Caledonia, argued the bill is discriminatory against young families.

“My own parents started my family before my mother turned 18,” Rigas said. “We need to allow for personal choices even if we don’t understand why someone would want to make them.”

Rep. Matt Maddock, R-Milford said the bill does not acknowledge exceptions to the status quo and punishes the wrong people.

“This is a harsh law based on an ideology that removes reasonable options for any exceptions for people who want to marry before 18, like my wonderful mother-in-law,” Maddock said. “This bill does not stop any predator. It stops marriage. Predators don’t care whether or not they are married to their prey.”

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