Advocates try to change old state law allowing underage marriage

March 22, 2017 06:24 PM

ALBANY - It's legal for a 14-year-old girl to get married in New York State. It's part of an old law still on the books. Governor Cuomo and some advocates are trying to change that with new legislation.

People often think about child marriages as an international problem, not really an issue in this country. We're told thousands of those marriages took place in the state of New York over the past decade. Lawmakers are trying to put a stop to it.

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In this day and age, advocates, state lawmakers and perhaps many others are asking if it should be legal for a 14 year-old to get married.

"I had no idea individuals could be married at that young of an age. It's totally inappropriate when you really think about it," noted Democratic Assemblyman John McDonald of Cohoes.

However, those marriages are taking place by the thousands, according to the National Organization for Women that held a press conference at the state Capitol Wednesday to shed some light on the matter.

"We've certainly come a long way in our society. The general population does not believe that this is appropriate," assured Sonia Ossorio with the National Organization for Women.

The current law has been on the books since 1929. It states 14 and 15 year-olds can get married with parental and judicial approval. With just parental consent, 16 and 17 year-olds can do the same. Thousands of children have been married off as result.

"Sometimes what we see, it’s not parental consent. It's parental coercion," noted Ossorio.

Lawmakers say they understand in many cultures it's commonplace to marry young and to have arranged marriages. However, they say what might be acceptable elsewhere is not acceptable here.

"I always try to be respectful of other religions and of other cultures. But there's a limit to that respect," explained Democratic Assemblywoman Pat Fahy of Albany.

They want to raise the age of consent to marry to 18 years old. They say it’s to protect children, particularly young girls. Governor Cuomo's on board and the Senate already passed the measure. The National Organization for Women is making a final push for the Assembly to take action.

"If we pass bills based on common sense, this should be law tomorrow," noted McDonald.

Under this measure, 17-year-olds will still be able to get married with judicial and parental consent.

With the governor's support, some lawmakers say they're optimistic the bill will pass the Assembly, but they're not 100 percent certain.


WNYT Staff

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