New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill to prohibit marriage involving minors under age 17. Seventeen-year-olds can still marry with parental consent and judicial approval, but there will be no more marriages in New York state for younger teens. The new statute went into effect July 20, 2017.
Under the previous 1929 statute, teens as young as 14 could marry with parental consent and a judge’s approval, but they couldn’t divorce until they reached the age of 18. A similar bill to raise the marriage age was introduced in the New York legislature in 2016, but failed to pass the lower house’s Judiciary Committee.
State records indicate that 3,850 minors were married in New York State in 2000-10. Girls represented more than 80 percent of the young newlyweds, with many marrying significantly older men. According to New York Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, Democrat from Scarsdale, who sponsored the bill in the lower house, “Child marriage is just not a problem that occurs in countries on the other side of the globe, but it happens right here in our very own back yard. Child marriage is forced marriage. It is driven by poverty, deeply embedded beliefs and signifies a pervasive discrimination against young girls.”
New Jersey Governor Refuses to Sign Similar Minor Marriage Ban
Meanwhile, in neighboring New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie recently refused to sign a bill that would have barred marriage outright for anyone under 18. The governor’s conditional veto message explained that “the severe bar this bill creates is not necessary to address the concerns voiced by the bill’s proponents and does not comport with the sensibilities and, in some cases, the religious customs, of the people of this state.” If the New Jersey Legislature amends the bill to provide for exceptions covering 16- and 17-year-olds, the governor indicated a willingness to sign the bill into law.
Advocates of legislation raising the marriage age are skeptical of parental and judicial consent provisions that allow persons aged 16, 17 or even younger to marry. They claim that parental consent can simply present a respectable front for parental coercion, and that teen girls are pressured to say the right things to obtain a judge’s approval where court permission is necessary to marry below a certain age.
Fraidy Reiss, an activist opposed to coerced child marriage, told the New York Times: “The judicial review process is evil because it puts the onus on a 17-year-old girl to find a way out of this situation. If she tells the judge she does not want to marry, her parents will know she said that. We have seen parents retaliate in many ways — locking a girl in her room or taking her overseas and forcing her to marry there.”
The legislative movement to raise marriage ages around the country is gaining momentum, with similar bills pending in Texas, Connecticut, Missouri, and other states. Virginia raised its marriage age to 18 last year, with exceptions for minors 16 or older who have been emancipated by court order.