The article opens asserting, “Child marriage is a real problem in the United States, one that isn’t talked about much. Like human trafficking, we assume that child marriage is something that happens in other countries, countries with antiquated world views and gender norms.” It goes on to state, “Between 2000 and 2015, 86 percent of the reported 207,468 child marriages that took place in the United States were between minors and adults.”
This number comes from a Frontline report in 2017. That report quotes the founder of Unchained At Last, a woman’s advocacy group that’s working to outlaw marriage before the age of 18: “’When I got that spreadsheet from the state health department, I was literally shaking,’ [Fraidy] Reiss said. The spreadsheet showed nearly 3,500 minors married in New Jersey between 1995 and 2012. Most minors were 16 and 17 years old.”
Who Marries a 10-Year-Old Girl?
Almost 90 percent of the minors aged 16 – 17 marrying adults were girls. About 1 percent of minors under the age of 15 were married to adults, about 2,000 kids. Those aged 17 made up 67 percent of these marriages. Of the adults marrying these minors, 85 percent were between the ages of 18 and 23.
The numbers indicating marriages under the age of 15 are profoundly disturbing. There were 985 children aged 14, 51 aged 13, 10 aged 12, 2 aged 11, and 3 aged 10 years. According to the Frontline report and the Tahirih Justice Center, “Most states allow parties between the ages of 16 and 18 to marry with parental consent alone. Many states also allow parties younger than age 16 to marry with judicial approval and/or if one party is pregnant or has had a child.” Astoundingly, 27 states have no “age floor” in which to legally deny a marriage if other conditions are met such as pregnancy, parental consent, or judicial approval.
Reiss told the story of Michelle DeMello, who was married against her will at age 16. The story read, “She was 16 and pregnant. Her Christian community in Green Mountain Falls [Colorado] was pressuring her family to marry her off to her 19-year-old boyfriend. She didn’t think she had the right to say no to the marriage after the mess she felt she’d made. ‘I could be the example of the shining whore in town, or I could be what everybody wanted me to be at that moment and save my family a lot of honor.’” DeMello is now 42 years old.
The State Department released “The U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls” in 2017. Per The Washington Post, “[t]he strategy includes harsh words about marriage before 18, declaring it a ‘human rights abuse’ that ‘produces devastating repercussions for a girl’s life, effectively ending her childhood’ by forcing her ‘into adulthood and motherhood before she is physically and mentally mature.’” The article clarifies, “Unchained has seen child marriage in nearly every American culture and religion, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim and secular communities.”
Another woman, Sara Siddiqui, shared her story of being forced into marriage at age 16. She said her father “arranged her Islamic wedding to a stranger, 13 years her senior, in less than one day; her civil marriage in Nevada followed when she was 16 and six months pregnant. ‘I couldn’t even drive yet when I was handed over to this man.’”
Conservatives Only Pretending to Care About Parents?
A key issue here is parental consent. Salon writes, “The proposed amendment to existing Kentucky marriage law, SB 48, stalled in committee last week and was criticized by Republican Senator John Schickel because it takes decision-making power away from parents. But the real force behind the bill’s delayed passage comes from Family Foundation of Kentucky. Family Foundation of Kentucky is a conservative lobbying group.”
The author directly accuses evangelical Christians of promoting child marriage: “This link between evangelical Christianity and child marriage actually has been explored recently in the wake of stories of failed Senate candidate Roy Moore’s proclivities. Evangelical communities still push for child marriages between girls in their ‘middle teens’ and men in the mid-twenties or older.” She exclusively cites the accusations against Moore and support for his candidacy as evidence, alongside the ‘religious groups” opposing the bill and others like it.
What she doesn’t tell us is that Republican State Sen. Julie Raque Adams proposed the bill to amend Kentucky’s marriage laws. Martin Cothran of the Family Foundation stated the organization’s opposition was that the bill “takes away parental rights at the very beginning, and then includes them in a sort of incidental way at the end of the process.”
Similarly, state Sen. John Schicke said “Decisions involving a minor child should be made by a parent, not the court.” So, according to the bill’s opponents, their issue has nothing to do with underage sex and everything to do with substituting judicial judgment for parent judgment. The current law allows minors to be married with parental support, while the proposed law would allow only judges to make exceptions. It would also allow judges to void marriages of minors.
So Underage Sex Is Terrible, Except When It’s Not
What is strange here, besides of course the child marriages themselves, is progressive advocates’ passion and outrage over this in contrast to their equal passion and praise for an identical situation in the Oscar award-winning film, “Call Me By Your Name.” As is well known by now, the movie features a sexual relationship between a 17-year-old boy and a 24-year-old man.
The movie has been widely praised with headlines such as The New Yorker: “‘Call Me by Your Name’: An Erotic Triumph,” The New York Times: “Review: A Boy’s Own Desire in ‘Call Me by Your Name,’” and The Atlantic: “The Sumptuous Love Story of Call Me by Your Name.”
The star of the film, Armie Hammer, defended the lead characters’ relationship on Twitter after being challenged on its adult-teen nature, saying, “You do know that you live in a state where the age of consent is 16, right….? Ok. Now shut up.” LGBT advocates and liberal media outlets even complained the movie was not sexually explicit enough. To dismiss criticism, LGBT advocates widely used the argument that Italy, where the film was set, has an age of consent of 14.
So why would a 17-year-old be considered a “child bride” in one scenario and a fully consenting, sexually adventurous adult in another? Why is it acknowledged that entering into adult relationships can be highly dangerous, coercive, and emotionally destructive for minors, but only when the nature of the relationship is heterosexual?
Same-sex marriage has been legal since 2013. Would these advocates argue that it would be abusive to the minor for the characters in this film to marry? The only difference is the kind of sex and religious views of its participants. It seems the Left selectively views an identical situation entirely dependent on what outcome they want from the narrative.
It must be said that there is no excuse or justification for any religious leader, judge, or certainly parent to participate in marrying a minor to an adult. While there is a legitimate concern around legal verbiage that could easily be used to limit parental authority, it is morally and ethically obligatory for state legislatures to clearly state that only consenting legal adults should be allowed to marry.
Views surrounding teenage pregnancy and social obligation must be challenged, and a universal understanding of the fragility of young minds and spirits must be recognized. Hypocrisy must be called out wherever it lives, especially when the consequence involves endangering children.
The Salon author is not wrong in the nature of her concern. To realize that children as young as 10 years old have been married to adults in our country is profoundly disturbing. But at the same time, what does the Left expect when it routinely glamourizes teenagers engaging in adult behavior?
Are we to judge a 24-year-old man marrying a 17-year-old girl as an abuser who is coercing her while celebrating a 24-year-old man in a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old boy as beautiful and courageous? Are the girl’s parents maliciously manipulating her while the boy’s parents demonstrating love, tolerance, and acceptance? When will politics step aside in favor of protecting children?