In Fight Over Child Marriage Laws, States Resist Calls for a Total Ban

July 06, 2017

By Anjali Tsui

As a girl growing up in California, Nicole handled pet snakes, bullfrogs and iguanas. She dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. But when she was 16 years old, she says she was pressured to marry a 25-year-old man.

Around the country, teenagers need to be at least 18 to get married on their own. But the laws in every state allow people to marry at younger ages with parental consent, and sometimes, a judge’s approval.

Nicole, who asked to be identified only by her middle name, says her marriage was orchestrated by her late grandmother — who believed a girl’s only purpose was to become a wife and mother. A judge also approved the union.

“I really thought that they were going to pull me aside and I was going to be able to back out of it,” she said. “I was expecting someone to ask questions, especially because of my age.”

The marriage ended after two years when her husband died in a car accident. Now, at 29, Nicole is asking lawmakers in California to set stricter rules around underage marriage.

Over the last two years, Democratic and Republican lawmakers in California and across the nation have been grappling with whether to rewrite decades-old laws that have allowed thousands of minors to marry legally. Lawmakers in 11 states have proposed measures to raise the minimum marriage age. So far, four bills have succeeded.