The state of Kentucky claims the nation's third-highest rate of child marriage -- over 10,000 children were married between 2000 and 2015 -- leading one state senator on a mission to change the law.
But that mission ran into a snag last week when a planned vote in the Senate Judicial Committee was held up due to opposition from the conservative group Family Foundation of Kentucky.
Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, filed Senate Bill 48 on the first day of this year’s session of the Kentucky General Assembly, which would prohibit anyone under the age of 17 from marrying and only allow 17-year-olds to marry with a judge’s approval.
Under the current law in Kentucky, 16 and 17-year-olds can marry with their parents’ permission, and a girl of any age under 16 can marry as long as they are pregnant and marrying the expectant father. Likewise, a boy of any age can marry a woman that he impregnates under the current law.
“SO disappointed!” wrote Adams. “My SB 48 (outlaw child marriage) won’t be called for a vote. It is disgusting that lobbying organizations would embrace kids marrying adults. We see evidence of parents who are addicted, abusive, neglectful pushing their children into predatory arms. Appalling.”
What is holding up the vote? Parental rights.
[Family Foundation spokesman Martin] Cothran said his group was not opposed to the bill setting the minimum age for marriage at 17, but added that they are opposed to the court approval process for 17-year-olds, as “it takes away parental rights, in terms of parental consent, and gives it to the court. So we have a big concern about that.”
“The approach of this bill is the opposite of what we would advocate,” said Cothran. “It takes away parental rights at the very beginning, and then includes them in a sort of incidental way at the end of the process. We pushed for changes in the language to allow for parental rights at the beginning and take them away where they need to be taken away.”
Adams disagrees, saying that often it is the parents who are the problem, but still she hopes to find a compromise that will enable the legislation to pass.
Adams added that she and other legislators are now working on a compromise bill that she hopes will satisfy the concerns of opponents, but added that the problem is that “many times the parents are the problem,” as abusive ones sometimes send their own kids “into the arms of a predator.” Noting Kentucky’s shameful national ranking on child marriage, Adams added: “This is not kids marrying kids. This is kids marrying adults.”
Most agree that the law needs changed and hope to see a bill pass soon.
“This is the legalized rape of children,” said [Eileen Recktenwald, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs]. “We cannot allow that to continue in Kentucky and I cannot believe we are even debating this in the year 2018 in the United States.”