Rep. Kristian Grant (D-Grand Rapids) speaks in support of a ban on child marriage in Michigan on the House floor on June 21, 2023. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)
Updated, 2:08 p.m., 7/11/23
A full ban on child marriage on Wednesday cleared the Michigan House. The legislation could make Michigan one of the handful of states that ban the practice that critics call a human rights abuse.
Currently, Michigan is one of seven states that have no legal minimum age for marriage and of the over 5,400 child marriages that occurred in Michigan between 2000 and 2021, according to Unchained at Last, a national nonprofit advocating for an end to child marriage, with 95% of them were marriages between girls and older men.
It is hard to believe child marriage still exists in Michigan, Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt), who the sponsor of the main bill said on the House floor before votes on the package.
“Often, parents force their kids into marriage because they become pregnant or because they want to be free from their own obligations as parents and in some nightmare scenarios, children become pregnant [with a child rapist’s child] and their own parents make them marry,” Hope said.
None of the votes to ban child marriage were unanimous, though widely bipartisan. The bills now will head to the state Senate for consideration.
Reps. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers), Neil Friske (R-Charlevoix), Matt Maddock (R-Milford), Angela Rigas (R-Caledonia) and Josh Schriver (R-Oxford) voted no on every bill in package to ban child marriage.
Reps. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport) and Ann Bollin (R-Brighton Twp.) joined in the opposition on a bill that bans clerks from issuing marriage licenses to children, but also allows counties with populations of over 1.5 million to alter the fee for marriage licenses.
The Advance put in a request for comment with Maddock about why he voted no.
The House member sent back an email statement Thursday along with his spouse, former Michigan GOP Chair Meshawn Maddock, in which they referred to transgender people by a slur and claimed, without evidence, that: “The same people who put tra—ies in elementary schools and libraries are suddenly hyper-moralistic about 17 year old High School Sweethearts getting married, I don’t get it[.]”
Members of Unchained at Last told lawmakers during the House Judiciary Committee meeting in May that there is little anyone can do to protect children from getting married off in Michigan.
Current law requires only one parent to consent for a child to get married and advocates said if a child attempts to run away from getting married, they can be sent to jail for running away and anyone that attempts to help them can be criminally liable for kidnapping. This makes it difficult for domestic and sexual violence advocates from helping children trying to get out of marriage.
The group’s founder, Frady Reiss, told lawmakers in May the story of being forced to marry at 19 and the abuse she suffered within that marriage. She addressed child marriage as a human rights abuse and said the package of bills to ban it means everything for the children of Michigan.
“It harms no one, except child rapists, and it ends a human rights abuse,” said Reiss.
Another bill sponsor, Rep. Kristian Grant (D-Grand Rapids), said it is her top priority as a mother to protect her children and it is society’s most basic duty to take care of children.
“Today, after numerous attempts, we will finally right this wrong,” Grant said. “As conversations about groomers and people who will prey on children is very prevalent these days. It is important to acknowledge that this package will actually do the work to protect kids from abusers and real threats, we will stop actual predators from taking advantage of Michigan’s children.”
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