Civil rights groups want to keep child marriage in place in California

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A California legislator expressed dismay when he learned from a young constituent that—with the permission of a parent and a judge’s order—Californians can get married at any age, even though their prospective spouse is many years older.

“I thought, that can’t be true in California,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill, a Democrat from San Mateo. “We found that it is true in California and true in many states throughout the country.”

After learning about the provision, Hill proposed legislation to bar juveniles from getting married, but the effort has been compromised due to strong objections from civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union.

As California lawmakers debate the legislation, they cannot agree on the number of minors that get married each year in the state. The state does not compile such statistics, and efforts to get them to do so are facing resistance.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Within the past year, elected officials in several states have pushed to restrict juvenile marriage, with a law passed last month limiting matrimony by minors in New York to 16- and 17-year-olds who have become legal adults emancipated from their parents, and one in Texas holding the line at age 17—with a judge’s permission.”

Hill sought to set a strict age limit at 18 for marriage in California, but encountered opposition from other lawmakers and groups such as the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Californians cannot legally consent to sex until they are 18.

Although SB273 continues to move through legislative committees, amendments have removed any age restriction. Should the bill survive in its current form, it would increase family court oversight to ensure that a minor is not coerced into marriage, and include a requirement that judges interview individuals privately.

It’s a compromise, Hill said, noting that it was a positive step. “It’s our responsibility to protect those kids.”

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