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On the Record

The Daily Record's law news blog

After ‘child marriage’ ban fails in Md., Del. and NJ pass legislation

Maryland may have failed again to pass legislation eliminating so-called “child marriage,” but nearby Delaware did last month and New Jersey may soon follow if Gov. Phil Murphy signs it into law.

Delaware became the first state to require an individual to be 18 to get married when Gov. John Carney signed the bill in May.

New Jersey’s legislature passed a similar bill this week. Former Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the bill last year because it didn’t “comport with the sensibilities and, in some cases, the religious customs, of the people of this state.”

Advocates have pushed for Maryland, which has a minimum marriage age of 18 with exceptions requiring pregnancy or parental permission for 16- and 17-year-olds and both for 15-year-olds, to eliminate those exceptions. Bills have gained traction in the General Assembly in recent years but have not passed.

Advocates argue the exceptions allow young girls to be forced into marriages with much older men, but opponents say a flat-out ban removes autonomy from mature teenagers and harms potential military spouses who may wish to marry young before their partner is deployed.

Some opponents have said their position might change if Maryland had an emancipation statute to allow self-sufficient teens to become legal adults, but separate emancipation legislation faltered in the most recent legislative session.

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