The measure’s bipartisan sponsors said they want to stop children from being forced to wed by their parents. They had the support of activist Fraidy Reiss, an Orthodox Jewish woman who entered an arranged marriage at 19 and later founded Unchained at Last, a Westfield-based non-profit group that helps women and girls leave forced unions.
Orthodox leaders said the ban would interfere with their customs. New Jersey’s fastest-growing municipality, Lakewood, is home to the world’s largest Orthodox Jewish yeshiva outside Israel, attracting scholars who maintain a tradition of marrying young and having large families.
Former governor Chris Christie last year had vetoed the bill, saying it didn’t “comport with the sensibilities and, in some cases, the religious customs, of the people of this state.” He suggested a ban for those 15 and under, and a judge’s signature required for those 16 and 17.
The bill, passed 59-12 by the Assembly on Thursday, restricts marriage and civil-union licenses to those 18 and over, regardless of parental or judicial approval. Delaware in May became the first state to enact such legislation. Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill in March raising the age minimum to 17. Lawmakers in Tennessee and New Hampshire also have taken on the issue.
New Jersey’s Senate passed the bill in April. To become law it must be signed by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy. The press office for the governor didn’t respond to an email requesting comment on the measure.