A map showing child marriage restrictions and bans in the US

VICTORY: Virginia becomes 12th state to ban child marriage

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Map from Newsweek.

FFRF Action Fund celebrates the passage of crucial legislation banning child marriage without exception in the 12th state in the country. 

Virginia has joined 11 other states that have completely banned child marriage. The list previously consisted of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington and Vermont. Then on Monday, Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed House Bill 994 requiring the marriage age of consent to be 18. This law closes a loophole that allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to get married if emancipated from their parents.

Virginia is the second state this year to ban child marriage. Washington passed such legislation in late February, which was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee March 8 and which takes effect June 6. Previously, the law in Washington allowed 17-year-olds to be married and, shockingly, marriages with a judge’s consent without any minimum age. Washington has eliminated those exemptions and requires that individuals must be 18 years of age to get married — no exceptions.

Many are unaware or tend to overlook the fact that child marriages are permitted in most states across the country. Sadly, there are 12 states that have failed to establish any minimum age requirement for marriage with parental consent. These marriages often serve as a means to evade prosecution for acts that would otherwise constitute criminal child or statutory rape. Minors are susceptible to coercion or even compulsion into marriage, finding themselves ensnared in such unions. Paradoxically, while minors may be coerced into marriage, they are frequently deemed too young to seek divorce. And these exceptions permitting child marriage are frequently implemented due to religious influences.

Stories of forced child marriages echo ancient practices found in the Old Testament and highlight the problematic treatment of girls and women as property, subjected to the whims of their fathers and later their husbands. Regrettably, even in current-day United States, minors who escape from abusive spouses or face the prospect of forced marriages often find themselves labeled as runaways under certain state laws. As such, they can be forced to return to their homes against their will, and in certain states, they may even face charges for running away.

The FFRF Action Fund is part of a coalition to end child marriage across the United States. 

“Action Fund advocates certainly made their voices heard and helped to push this bill over the finish line,” comments FFRF Action Fund President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Changes like this don’t happen without broad public support — and we are proud to help give a voice to Americans who want to protect young children from becoming trapped in forced religious marriages.”

FFRF’s lobbying arm will continue to work with with advocates and activists to end child marriage in the remaining 38 states that still, to their ignominy, permit it.

FFRF Action Fund is the lobbying arm of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit with over 40,000 members across the country, including more than 1,000 members in Michigan. The Action Fund’s purposes are to help pass legislation to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.