Lawmakers pass ban on minors marrying — but exclude 17-year-olds

Jeanette Nunez

A much-debated bill that would ban all marriages under the age of 17 passed the Legislature Friday; it now heads to Gov. Rick Scott. 

A spokesman for Scott said the governor “intends to sign” the bill (SB 140).

The vote in the House on the Senate bill was 109-1, with the only ‘no’ vote cast by Republican state Rep. George Moraitis of Fort Lauderdale.

He was one of the toughest critics of the measure and argued minors should be allowed to wed when a teen is pregnant.

The Senate was initially looking for an outright ban on all minor marriages, but the House wanted more flexibility with 16- and 17-years olds to tie the knot.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, for example, was in favor of allowing some minors to wed because he argued it would allow “high school sweethearts” to marry.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and state Rep. Jeanette Nunez championed the bills in their chambers.

Advocates for a strict minor marriage ban said the change would close loopholes in state law that have allowed children as young as 13 to marry older men.

The legislation emerged — and became high profile — because of the story of 58-year-old Sherry Johnson, who said she was forced to marry her adult rapist at age 11 after giving birth to a child. Johnson lobbied for an outright ban on marriage licenses for people under 18, with Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, proposing a ban.

After Friday’s vote, Johnson said she was pleased with the outcome.

“I’m happy with the compromise,” she said. “Eighteen was my top goal, but I will settle for the 17 with all of the restrictions that come with it. I think that it is very gratifying to me.”

The House last month approved a proposal that would have allowed people who are age 16 or 17 to get married under certain circumstances that included pregnancy. The proposal would have allowed minors to only marry people who are no more than two years older. Also, the proposal would have required couples to verify pregnancies and for minors to get written consent from their parents or guardians.

After the House approved its proposal, Benacquisto and Nunez worked on the compromise that passed Friday.

Material from the News Service of Florida is included in this article.

Ana Ceballos

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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