Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto says she’s hopeful but “still sees concerns” over eventual passage of legislation aimed at preventing minors from getting married.
Benacquisto, the Senate’s Rules chair, told Florida Politics Thursday she “looks forward to passing as strong a ban on child marriage as we can” this session. The Fort Myers Republican sponsored her chamber’s bill (SB 140), which was OK’d 37-0 on Jan. 31.
But that version was a blanket ban on marriages for those under 18. The House amended the bill this week and sent it back to the Senate with language that would still allow some minors to get married.
Specifically, the House would make it illegal for marriage licenses to be issued to those under 16, but 16- and 17-year-olds would be permitted to wed if the girl is pregnant and the father is no more than two years older.
“The House would allow a girl who is 16 to marry. And I understand there is a condition on the age of the person she might want to marry,” Benacquisto said.
“But if she appears in a courthouse on the advent of her 16th birthday and she’s five months pregnant, that young lady has been in a relationship that would otherwise be seen as criminal.
“To move forward and allow that, I find is troubling,” she added. “We don’t allow that under current law … I don’t feel right to be consenting to that.”
Legislation was filed after reports on a Tampa Bay-area woman who was forced to marry her rapist at age 11.
In Florida, 16,417 children—one as young as 13—were married in the period of 2000-15, state Vital Statistics data shows. In one extreme example, a 17-year-old female married an 83-year-old man in 2004.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran has said he is in support of permitting some minors to be married because it would give “high school sweethearts” the option to tie the knot if they want.