Capitol Alert

Should minors be allowed to marry in California?

Tribune News Service

Under 18 and want to get hitched? In California, you need signed permission from a single parent or legal guardian, an interview and approval from the court.

Soon, you might need to wait until 18 no matter who signs off, making California the only state in the nation with an absolute ban on under-18 marriage.

Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said he is introducing the bill Friday in hopes of protecting all minors, and protecting women’s rights.

“While we respect all cultures and faiths, we cannot support practices that rob youth of their childhood,” Hill said. “It affects young children, yes, but I wouldn’t consider teenagers to be prepared for marriage when they’re 15 to 17 either.”

Under current law, if a minor wants to get married they need to get the written permission of one parent or guardian, bring their birth certificate and other forms of identification to the county clerk, and request a court order to approve the marriage. Family Court Services counselors then interview the minor and their parents or guardians, and may require pre-marital counseling. Information is sent to a judge for review, who then decides whether to issue the court order.

Hill said he wrote the bill after he was contacted by Aliesa Bahri, a 16-year-old constituent. Bahri said she became aware of the issue after hearing about a 12-year-old girl who was engaged to be married in the Silicon Valley area. After investigating the laws and finding that there are no laws prohibiting child marriages, she contacted Hill.

“One, arranged child marriages are immoral. Second, even childhood marriages that are not arranged face worse living conditions and usually end up in divorce anyways,” Bahri said. “Kids don’t have the maturity at that young of an age to make that commitment.” Hill said he chose age 18 because it is the age of consent for other issues, including military service.

California has a higher than average underage marriage rate, at 5.5 for every 1,000 15- to 17-year-olds compared to the national average of 4.6, according to a Pew Research Center study from November 2016. It is tied for the sixth highest rate in the country with Tennessee. Hill said up to 1,000 underage children are married each year in California alone.

Underage marriage is often associated with arranged marriage practices, which can occur in multiple religions such as Hindu and Haredi Judaism as well as certain sects of Christianity and Islam. Minors also sometimes marry before they are 18 due to extenuating circumstances like having a child, or joining the military.

Hill said he expects opposition to the bill.

“What qualifications do I have to bring this forward? I have a daughter, two granddaughters, and I want to protect all Californian citizens,” Hill said. “There’s some urgency in this that we need to make a statement and bringing California toward a level of civilization relating to marriage.”

Robin Opsahl: 916-321-1176, @robinlopsahl