The governor of Michigan signed legislation Tuesday that aims to eventually end child marriage in that state, raising the minimum age at which one can get married to 18 years old under all circumstances.
The state previously allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to wed with written permission from a parent or legal guardian. Minors under 16 were able to get married with judicial approval.
But several laws signed by Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer effectively stop the practice, the Detroit Free Press reports.
“Keeping Michiganders – especially young women – safe and healthy is a top priority, and these bills will take long overdue steps to protect individuals from abuse,” Whitmer, a Democrat, said in a statement to the Free Press.
Whitmer signed legislation banning marriage with minors even with parental permission. Children who are married are also no longer considered emancipated, and parents and guardians can now apply for the annulment of a marriage involving a child, the Free Press added.
But it was unclear when the legislation setting the minimum age to marry at 18 would take effect. That is the case after Whitmer did not sign three related bills that would have allowed the new minimum age to marry to go into effect.
The bills passed Michigan’s legislature with large bipartisan support, though they drew some opposition, according to the Detroit News. Five Michigan Republicans opposed the bills in Michigan’s House. One Republican senator attempted to amend the bill to include a ban on gender-affirming care for minors, the Michigan Advance.
Michigan is only the 10th state to ban child marriages, the 19th reports, citing data from Unchained At Last, a nonprofit seeking to end forced and child marriages. The practice remains legal in almost 80% of the US.
Nevada has the most child marriages per capita, followed by Idaho and Arkansas, Unchained at Last data show.
Almost 300,000 minors in the US were married between 2000 and 2018, with 5,259 child marriages in Michigan. The majority of child marriages are between minor girls, aged 16 and 17, and a man who is at least four years older.
Fraidy Reiss, founder and executive director of Unchained at Last, has worked to pass similar bans in other states. Reiss called the ban in Michigan a “victory”.
“On the one hand, it’s shocking that in the year 2023, ‘only’ 10 states have banned child marriages, but when you consider that just a few years ago child marriage was legal in all 50 states, it’s pretty significant,” Reiss said.
Reiss noted that advocates have difficulty getting bans passed due to legislators not prioritizing issues involving girls.
Number of Women and Girls At Risk: 25,000
Status: Existing Legislation Needs Strengthening
Improve by adding: Prosecuting parents/guardian, felony offense