A lawmaker in the state of Kentucky is fighting to outlaw child marriage, proposing a bill that would raise the minimum age at which Kentuckians can be married to 18, up from where it currently is, just 13 years old. The bill was pulled from the agenda before a vote this week, and has been met with resistance from various groups, some of which have reportedly claimed that banning young children from getting married would infringe on parental rights.
Many of the bill's supporters and backers have been vociferous and impassioned in their advocacy. For instance, Republican state senator Julie Raque Adams, the bill's sponsor, called it "disgusting" that people and groups were organizing against the child marriage ban, and expressed disappointment that the state Senate would not hold a vote on it.
"It is disgusting that lobbying organizations would embrace kids marrying adults," Adams reportedly tweeted about the bill, according to The Louisville Courier Journal. "We see evidence of parents who are addicted, abusive, neglectful pushing their children into predatory arms. Appalling."
Currently, 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds can be married in Kentucky provided they receive parental permission. Adams' SB 48 would change that, setting 18 as the minimum age for marriage, while allowing 17-year-olds to marry only if they successfully petition a judge.
As Newsweek notes, current Kentucky law allows underage girls to get married, provided that they're pregnant and are marrying the father. This is true despite the fact that the legal age of sexual consent in Kentucky is 16 ― in the event that a pregnant 15-year-old is marrying an adult man who impregnated her, in other words, that pregnancy would itself be evidence of a sex crime.
Given that different U.S. states have different laws regarding legal marriage age, the very idea that adults can be legally allowed to marry young teenagers might come as a shock to countless Americans. Many children’s rights and women’s rights advocates have been outspoken in denouncing Kentucky’s current law, and have come out in support of SB 48.
For example, as The Louisville Courier Journal noted, Executive Director of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs Eileen Recktenwald has characterized the situation in really disturbing terms.
This is legalized rape of children," she reportedly said. "We cannot allow that to continue in Kentucky, and I cannot believe we are even debating this is the year 2018 in the United States.”
According to data from the Tahirih Justice Center, Kentucky is one of 14 states in which children as young as 13 years old can, under certain circumstances, legally marry adults. The other states are Alabama, South Carolina, Idaho, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Missouri, Tennessee, Washington, and Texas. According to the center, more than 10,000 children were married over a 15-year span, from 2000 to 2015, reportedly the third-highest rate of child marriage in the country.
In other words, child marriage is not an issue isolated strictly to Kentucky. To the contrary, according to that data from the Tahirih Justice Center, there are other states like Alaska, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Louisiana where marriage licenses have been granted to 12-year-olds. In fact, over that aforementioned 2000-2015 time frame, more than 200,000 children throughout America have been married. And, as Teen Vogue noted last year, every single state in America has some form of legal process or exemption to enable someone under 18 to get married, even if it's a narrow or niche provision.
In short, it’s a problem that exists in states throughout the country, and it’s drawn increasing scrutiny and condemnation in recent years, sparking action from activists and legislators alike. But in Kentucky, at the very least, the efforts have apparently been scuttled by conservative opposition to SB 48 ― the bill was ultimately pulled from the floor by Kentucky Republicans this week, without even receiving a vote.