Last week, Florida seemed poised to make history by completely banning child marriage — but even with strong support, the bill appears to have hit a snag.
Currently, the age of marriage in Florida is 18, unless a child is pregnant or has a child herself. In these cases, a child can be married off at any age with the permission of a parent or judge.
These major legal loopholes have allowed more than 14,000 children in Florida — some as young as 13 — to be married off between 2000 and 2010, according to the non-profit Unchained At Last. In effect, the law allows child rapists to marry their victims and avoid punishment, if they impregnate them.
On Jan. 31, the Florida senate unanimously passed a bill that would close these loopholes and set the minimum age of marriage at 18 without exceptions, but the House failed to pass an identical bill the next day.
Instead, the House Judiciary Committee proposed an amendment that would allow pregnant girls as young as 16 to marry men within two years of their age with parental consent, Human Rights Watch reported.
Yet even with this amendment — which child marriage survivors, rights organizations, and activists strongly oppose — some members of the House voted against the bill, according to the Associated Press.
Republican Rep. George Moraitis told the AP that "the current law is...very good, in my opinion, a very carefully crafted balance.” According to Florida Politics, Moraitis also said he thought the proposed bill would encourage pregnant girls to seek abortions as alternatives to marriage.
But the Florida Coalition to End Child Marriage – which includes activists like child marriage survivor Sherry Johnson, who has been a driving force behind the bill — are calling for the original version of the bill to be passed.
“I don’t want a single other child in Florida to go through what I did,” Johnson has said. “I believe this is the year that we will end child marriage in Florida. The Senate has already passed a bill that would protect all children, and I am asking the House to do the same.”
If Florida were to pass the Senate’s version of the bill, it would become the first state in the US to ban child marriage without exceptions.
Global Citizen campaigns in support of gender equality and against child marriage. You can take action here to call on lawmakers to put an end to child marriage in Florida.