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Bills to end child marriage in Michigan are heading to the governor after passing the Legislature this week

The Michigan state Senate room from the gallery.
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

Bills to end child marriage in Michigan are heading to the governor after passing the Legislature this week.

State law currently allows parents to marry off a child as young as 16 with their signature. Younger kids can also marry, if a judge signs off.

Fraidy Reiss is executive director of the group Unchained at Last. She says the exceptions can leave girls in a legal trap where they have no way out of a marriage.

“This destroys almost every aspect of an American girl’s life. Her health, her education, her economic opportunities, even her physical safety. It also undermines our statutory rape laws and gives a get-out-f-jail-free card to child rapists,” Reiss said.

She pointed toward a loophole preventing someone from facing prosecution for criminal sexual conduct with someone under 16 if that child is their spouse.

Michigan would become the tenth state to ban child marriage without exception if the bills get signed into law.

While the bills passed the Legislature with bipartisan support, a handful of Republicans voted no in both the House and Senate.

Representative Angela Rigas (R-Alto) favors keeping the marriage age at 16.

“Barring parents from giving the authorization, permission for 16, 17-year-olds to be married if they wish to get married, I just think is an overstep of our freedom and infringement on parental rights,” Rigas said.

Other critics of the legislation have called it a one-size-fits-all solution.

During the committee process and floor discussions, supporters of the bill package shared several stories of abuse that occurred because of child marriage.

Rigas said current laws should address that.

“We already have laws in place protecting children from predators, sexual assaults, those things,” she said.

Numbers from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services shows 5,495 children got married in Michigan between 2000 and 2022.

Each year, more girls in Michigan than boys were married as minors, with the difference peaking at 399 in 2000.

Reiss said the practice occurs across religious and socio-economic backgrounds. She said one reason it persists in Michigan is because of how the law is written.

“Once a child is married in Michigan, under Michigan law, they are automatically emancipated. And that terminates the parent’s financial obligation to them. Most likely, it terminates the parent's financial obligation,” Reiss said.

The effort to end child marriage in Michigan spans multiple legislative sessions.

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