Child marriage ban passes Florida Senate

Saying the measure will prevent the abuse of children, the Florida Senate on today unanimously approved a bill that would ban issuing marriage licenses to people under age 18.

Senators cited a case of a woman, Sherry Johnson, who said she was forced to marry at age 11 after being raped and impregnated by an adult. Johnson has lobbied for the bill (SB 140), spearheaded by Senate Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers.

“What it does is closes a loophole so that children cannot be used and abused by folks who, under normal circumstances, would go to jail,” Benacquisto said. Under current law, minors can marry under certain conditions, such as with parental consent or in cases of pregnancies. Numerous senators praised Benacquisto’s proposed ban on issuing marriage licenses to minors.

“This bill will help many families, many children, who might be facing this in this state,” Sen. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, said. “I believe that this will go a long ways and send a message to those who abuse these children.”

The House version of the bill (HB 335), sponsored by Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, and Rep. Frank White, R-Pensacola, is scheduled to be heard Thursday by the House Judiciary Committee.

As Inweekly reported last year, more than 16,000 children — one as young as 13 —were granted marriage licenses in Florida between 2000 and 2015, according to state Vital Statistics data. Overall, state data shows 80 percent of minor who marry are girls wed to adult men.

The Tahirih Justice Center, a national advocacy group that fights violence against women and girl, applauded the Senate on passing the bill.

“In passing this legislation, the Florida Senate recognized that minors cannot enter binding legal contracts, and have much more limited rights than adults have, and therefore should not be committed to a legally binding, adult relationship,” said Jeanne Smoot, a senior counsel for policy and strategy for the advocacy group.

“The passage of this legislation today is a victory for the thousands of Florida women who were forced and coerced into marriage as girls, whose ‘marriages’ were cover-ups for heinous crimes.”

—source: The News Service of Florida