Citing concern for religious traditions, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have banned child marriage in New Jersey.
In an attempt to justify his veto, Christie said:
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.
Christie’s reasoning is flawed. There are no “religious customs” that offer a moral justification for child marriage. In fact, reasonable people can assume that any custom that forces or permits child marriage is in fact immoral.
While Christie did not specify what “religious customs” he was referring to, there are both Muslims and Christians who believe child marriages, often arranged and even against the will of the minors involved, are appropriate.
The top sponsor of the measure was Republican Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, who said at a committee hearing last year that she introduced the bill after hearing “compelling” stories of minors forced into marriages for religious reasons.
Under current New Jersey law, children under 16 can be legally married with parental consent and approval from a sympathetic judge.
As for the legislation Christie vetoed, The New Jersey Law Journal reports: “The bill—sponsored by Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, R-Union, and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer—passed both chambers of the Legislature with only token opposition.”
In a statement advocating for the legislation, state Sen. Nellie Pou (D-Passaic) said:
Marriage is a legal contract and it should be reserved for adults It is startling for people to learn that there are many underage marriages happening here in New Jersey. As a state, we have a responsibility to protect our residents, and moral obligation to protect children and this bill takes the necessary steps to do that.
True Jersey notes that opponents of the ban on child marriage worry that pregnant teenagers would be prevented from getting married and their child would be “born out of wedlock.”
Reuters reports that child marriage in the U.S. is not as uncommon as many Americans would like to believe. According to research, almost 250,000 children, the vast majority of them girls, were married in the United States between 2000 and 2010.
Bottom line: There is no moral justification for child marriage. Full stop.