It’s likely that some Americans assume child marriage happens only in developing nations, where one in three girls are married before 18. But it happens around the world, among people of different faiths, and in secular homes. It happens across the United States, where religion can play a unique role in preserving the practice of child marriage — it’s at once a reason some minors are forced to marry early, and also why some lawmakers insist the law must not be changed to end the coercion.
In May, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have ended legal child marriage in his state, in part because he said that he believed it would violate religious customs. “I agree that protecting the well-being, dignity, and freedom of minors is vital, but 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,” he said. In New Jersey, the law remains that minors can marry with parental consent at 16, and anyone younger can marry with consent of both parents and a judge’s approval.