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In child marriage debate, some want flexibility with older teens

As lawmakers in both the House and the Senate push for a strict ban on minors getting married, some legislators in the House said Wednesday they would like to keep judicial discretion when older teenagers want to legally wed.

“I do not support the part where someone who is pregnant can’t get married just because they are under 18,” said Rep. George Moraitis, a Fort Lauderdale Republican.

Republican Reps. Jeanette Nuñez and Frank White filed HB 335 hoping to outlaw marriages for anyone under the age 18 to protect children who are forced into marrying their perpetrators. The bill cleared the House Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee on Wednesday.

“Just to simply say no one under 18 can get married – there’s a lot of things you can do when you’re under 18, such as drive – so I just don’t agree with that,” Moraitis said.

Moraitis, however, does support banning marriages between minors who are 16 and 17 if the only thing a judge is going by is parental consent.

Republican Rep. Erin Grall agreed with Moraitis, saying she would not want to eliminate judicial discretion in certain cases.

“Especially under certain circumstances, maybe where you have two 17-year-olds who may want to get married,” Grall said. “I would hope there would be some conversations about the older teenagers as the bill moves forward.”

Rep. John Cortes, a Kissimmee Democrat, said he was voting in favor of the ban to “hopefully put a stop to human trafficking” and pedophilia.

Nuñez said the case of a 10-year-old girl who was raped, became pregnant and then the following year was forced to marry her rapist, inspired her to fight for this effort.

She said that in Florida, there have been 1,800 marriage licenses issued in the last five years in which at least one individuals was a minor.

“Florida is estimated to be No. 2 for child marriages in the country,” Nuñez said. “That is unacceptable.”

Under current state law, judges can issue a marriage license to minors of any age if they have a child or are expecting a child. The law also allows a judge to allow a minor female to marry an adult man if she is pregnant.

The law now also allows minors ages 16 and 17 to get married with their parents’ approval.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, has filed a bill banning minor marriages in the Senate.

Written By

Ana covers politics and policy Before joining the News Service of Florida she wrote for the Naples Daily News and was the legislative relief reporter for The Associated Press and covered policy issues impacting immigration, the environment, criminal justice and social welfare in Florida. She holds a B.A. in journalism from San Diego State University. After graduating in 2014, she worked as a criminal justice reporter for the Monterey Herald and the Monterey County Weekly. She has also freelanced for The Washington Post at the U.S.-Mexico border covering crime in the border city of Tijuana, where she grew up. Ana is fluent in Spanish and has intermediate proficiency in Portuguese.

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