Lawmakers, advocates push to ban marriage in Minnesota for children under 18

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There’s a new push at the state Capitol to prevent minors from getting married in Minnesota. Advocates and lawmakers staged a protest at the Capitol rotunda on Thursday.

“If you look at the statistics statewide and even internationally, a lot of times these are young girls marrying much older men and it crosses all ethnic groups, all religious groups,” said Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL- St. Paul.

Sen. Pappas has introduced a bill in the Senate to change state law. Currently, 16 and 17-year-olds can get married if they have permission from a parent, guardian or the court, and a judge signs off on it.

The new legislation would get rid of the exception and prevent anyone younger than 18 from getting married in Minnesota.

“In this day and age, they’re teenagers, they should have their childhood, and they should not be faced with the responsibilities,” she said. “For girls that get pregnant, there are serious health risks.”

The House version passed unanimously last session but didn't get a hearing in the Senate.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, also the assistant majority leader, said it will get a hearing this year. He is voicing support for the legislation.

According to 2014 Census data, 1,142 children ages 15 to 17 in Minnesota reported having been married. Advocates estimate that statistic is lower than the actual number.

Across the U.S., an estimated 248,000 children as young as 12 were married between 2000 and 2010, according to Unchained at Last.

The New Jersey-based organization has been traveling across the country advocating for changes to state laws. They’ve been in St. Paul lobbying lawmakers.

“Marriage even at 16 or 17 has devastating lifelong repercussions,” said Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at Last. “Right here in the U.S., we know from studies that it destroys a girl's health, her education, her economic opportunities. It also significantly increases the risk that a girl or a woman will experience domestic violence within that marriage.”

She and others wore wedding gowns in the rotunda with chains around their wrists, pushing to have state law changed.

“Minnesota should be at the forefront of this global movement to end child marriage,” she said.

Dawn Tyree, an activist from Oregon, shared her own story of abuse that started when she was 11. She said she was eventually forced to marry her rapist when she was 13 and he was 32.

“My abuser pleaded with me for several days to marry him when we learned that I was pregnant and my parents told me it was my best choice,” she said.

Tyree told us that by the time she was 16, she had a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old.

“I tried to get out of that marriage when I was 16 years old only to be denied safe housing, access to education, and parental support,” she said.

“If it's not us standing here speaking to this issue then who will? And if it's not you listening then who will? And if it's not us that makes a change then who will?” said Tyree.