Senate passes Johnson bill as part of bipartisan measures to end child marriage in Michigan

Senate passes Johnson bill as part of bipartisan measures to end child marriage in Michigan

LANSING, Mich. — The state Senate on Thursday approved Sen. Ruth Johnson’s legislation as part of a bipartisan package to prohibit children under age 18 from getting married in Michigan.

“Most people would be surprised to learn that there is no minimum age for marriage in Michigan,” said Johnson, R-Holly. “Our law dates back to the 1880s. Parents and judges continue to marry minors who are not even legally old enough to engage in consensual sex, often with much older partners.

“Sometimes there are other motives like financial constraints faced by parents that lead to their consent. We heard testimony from a number of women, who I would absolutely characterize as victims of child marriage. It is just so devastating to see this happening in 2023 in America, right here in our own state.”

Over the past two decades, 5,400 minors were married in the state of Michigan, according to data compiled by the nonprofit Unchained at Last. Over 90% were girls, some as young as 14 and 15 years old. Frequently, there are significant age gaps, including a 16-year-old girl married to a 45-year-old man and a 17-year-old boy married to a 68-year-old woman.

“A 16-year-old can’t legally sign a contract or hire a lawyer that makes it exponentially harder for them to get out of a child marriage once it has taken place. Modernizing our marriage laws will help to protect our young people until they are legally able to make these types of life-changing decisions for themselves.”

Senate Bills 209-217 would set the legal age for marriage at 18 in Michigan and prohibit judges from marrying minors or parents from authorizing the marriage of an underage child. Johnson’s bill, SB 214, would remove a clause in the state’s divorce statute that prevents an annulment for a child who was married underage and cohabitated with their partner past their 18th birthday.

The bills now head to the House of Representatives for consideration.


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