Child marriage very probably will soon be a thing of the past in Pennsylvania, as it already is in two other states (New Jersey and Delaware).
And, surprisingly, a conservative Republican state legislator, Rep. Jess Topper, is leading the charge to outlaw it. ABC News reported today that,
“Topper’s bill passed the state House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan support [195-0] this month and is likely to be approved by the state Senate; Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has signaled he will sign it.”
This is good news for American secularists, because child marriages are often enforced against the will of children and based on ancient religious doctrines. Encouragingly, opposition to such dubious unions is growing nationwide. Topper’s bill proposes a minimum marriage age of 18.
Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada, Ohio and Utah have set legal age limits for marriage, reducing the number of states allowing child wedlock to 13. Maine passed legislation setting marriageable age at 16, if the governor signs it shortly. But many states still have no age restrictions.
ABC News reported that even in states condoning such youthful marriage some “have improved their review process … to make sure there’s no abuse and that the marriage is in the minor’s best interest.”
In Pennsylvania, Rep. Topper says he’s generally a small-government ideologue but that after hearing from advocacy groups and child brides and learning the practice is common in the U.S., he “had to reconsider his political philosophy,” ABC News reported. The anti-childhood marriage bill he sponsored is a manifestation of that reassessment.
Topper, emphasizing that the U.S. State Department officially considers child marriage a “human rights abuse,” said he learned that nearly 80 percent of girls who marry before 18 “exchange vows with adult men” and that the vast majority end in divorce, according to the online news site Pennlive.
In applauding House passage of Topper’s bill, Pennsylvania Catholic Conference executive director Eric Failing said:
“This is a common-sense bill that will help to combat human trafficking in Pennsylvania. Our hope is that it will eliminate arranged marriages and the exploitation of young people. … [child marriages] often results in limited educational opportunities, domestic violence, rape and has been linked to sex trafficking.”
The American Atheists website reports that more than 167,000 children as young as 12 in 38 states had been forced to marry during 2000-2010. An article on the site notes that:
“Child brides forced into marriage because of their parents’ religion have few options. As minors, they face legal dead ends: Their parents still have custody rights, and organizations and shelters are unable to interfere with those rights. As a result, these children remain with abusive families and husbands, and they are often removed from school, raped, and live in poverty.”
American Atheists contends that postponing legal marriage to 18 for both parties “gives young women the legal right of refusal, emancipation from their families, and the ability to take legal action against domestic abusers.”