Promising News from Pennsylvania and Minnesota

May 22, 2020
Anna Bryan

Campaigners around the United States celebrated an exceptional victory this month as Pennsylvania and Minnesota ended Child Marriage on May 8th and May 12th respectively.  Pennsylvania and Minnesota became the third and fourth states to end child marriage after Delaware and New Jersey in spring 2018.  In the last two years, there have been ongoing campaigns in multiple states to pass similar bills. Some states were able to add more restrictions to child marriage including a very watered-down bill in California.

California is poised to become the first state to end Child Marriage on the west coast. We at Global Hope 365 find great promise and inspiration in the bills that passed in Pennsylvania for a few reasons. 

Firstly, the bills passed in the middle of a global health pandemic. As legislators have given immense attention to the safety of their citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic, legislators also kept an eye on the future of what the state will look like for girls after the pandemic is over.  Yes, schools are closed now.  However, more girls in Pennsylvania will have the opportunity to continue their education without the fear of being married off. 

From a historical context, child marriage has been legal in the United States because many of these state laws are archaic and have not caught up with the “modern” idea that the lives of girls have value beyond being a wife and mother.  Historically, it was acceptable that parents could make decisions for girls and “marry them off” as if they were a commodity to be exchanged or bartered.  California law currently allows for child marriage with parental consent.  This concept is beyond archaic and a detriment to human rights. Girls in the year 2020 should have the right to their own sovereignty and to make their own decisions about when to get married and start a family.

Secondly, we saw a very promising word mentioned in the news stories coming out of Pennsylvania and Minnesota.  That word is “unanimously.” Minnesota Rep. Kaohly Her (DFL-64A),l, got the bill passed unanimously in the House in 2019.  In Pennsylvania, H.B. 360 passed the PA House unanimously in June 2019. It went to the state Senate, where it waited until April 2020. It passed unanimously, 50-0, in the Senate. The bill returned to the House, where it was again voted on unanimously. That does not mean passing the bill in Pennsylvania was easy.  It took three years from when the bill was first introduced.  It means that the legislators in Pennsylvania now understand that a minor marrying an adult is abuse pure and simple and in many cases, the relationship is subject to statutory rape laws.

After legislators across the country have come up with numerous excuses as to why their states will still allow minors to get married, it is promising to see legislators and leaders become educated and alerted to the horrifying abuses girls face when their own parents and judges sign off on their marriage.  In December 2019, the American Medical Association adopted a policy opposing child marriage and advocating for state and federal legislation to end its practice as “child marriage is associated with higher rates of sexually transmitted infections, early pregnancies, divorce, and intimate partner violence when compared to women married at age 21 or older.

Going forward, we hope California’s own legislators will come to the same understanding as Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Wolf.  “Setting the minimum age to obtain a marriage license will help prevent child exploitation,” said Governor Wolf. “Marriage is a sacred and serious commitment that should be undertaken with love by two adults, not by children being exploited by unscrupulous adults.”