Senate bill would ban marriage by minors

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As expected, legislation was filed Monday in the Florida Senate to ban minors from getting married.

The bill (SB 140) repeals language now in state law governing weddings of those under 18, replacing it with, “A license to marry may not be issued to any person under the age of 18.”

It was filed by Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican.

Republican Leader and future Senate President Wilton Simpson, who co-introduced the measure, had advocated such a measure after the story of a Tampa Bay-area woman who was “forced to marry her rapist at age 11,” according to 10 News in Sarasota/Tampa Bay.

She “was raped repeatedly as a young girl, became pregnant and had a baby when she was 10 years old,” the report says. “The adults in her life thought it was best she just marry her rapist, who was closely connected to (her) family through their church.”

According to Unchained at Last, the “only nonprofit in the U.S. dedicated to helping women escape or resist arranged/forced marriages,” almost “a quarter-million children at least as young as 10 married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010.”

In Florida, 16,417 children—one as young as 13—were married in the period of 2000-15, state Vital Statistics data shows, said Fraidy Reiss, the group’s founder and executive director. In one extreme example, a 17-year-old female married an 83-year-old man in 2004, Reiss said.

Overall, Florida data shows 80 percent of minors who marry are girls wed to adult men, she added, tracking the national average.

She called the bill “strong as written,” though she was concerned about outdated language defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 ruled that state bans on same-sex marriages are unconstitutional.

“I want to see what her thinking is on that,” Reiss said, referring to Benacquisto.

Otherwise, if passed, the legislation “will benefit children in Florida—especially girls—for years to come,” Reiss said.

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at [email protected]


2 comments

  • victor peel

    August 14, 2017 at 10:53 am

    What do you know a politician can pass a good bill

  • The Tahirih Justice Center

    August 16, 2017 at 10:07 am

    Thanks, Florida Politics, for raising critical awareness about forced and child marriage in the U.S.

    If you or someone you know is facing or fleeing a forced marriage, contact the Forced Marriage Initiative at the Tahirih Justice Center for confidential help at [email protected] or 571-282-6161. Visit preventforcedmarriage.org to find out more or to request assistance confidentially online.

    The Tahirih Justice Center is a national legal advocacy organization that for over 20 years has served survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and other abuses. Since 2011, Tahirih’s dedicated Forced Marriage Initiative has been the leading national provider both of legal and social services to individuals at risk and survivors across the country, and of expert guidance to professionals (lawyers, teachers, social workers, and others) working to assist them. Tahirih also has specialized legal and policy expertise in forced and child marriage as U.S. problems, and recently led successful state legislative campaigns to end child marriage.

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