LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Big changes could soon be coming to Michigan’s marriage law after Target 8 exposed the state’s secret child marriages.
Every year, girls as young as 14 years old are marrying adult men. Target 8 found out there is no legal age limit for marriage in Michigan, and underage marriages require written permission from only one parent.
Our investigation spurred lawmakers to take action, creating Senate Bills 1255 and 1256. A hearing is set for Tuesday to discuss the measures, which would set the marriage age requirement at 16 years old, with permission from living parents.
But some critics say the bills don’t go far enough. People working to end child marriage say the threshold needs to be 18 years old.
“This is just such simple, common sense steps. What I'm saying (is) to eliminate the exceptions and allow marriage only at 18,” said Fraidy Reiss.
Reiss was forced into marriage and is now fighting to end child marriage through her organization, Unchained at Last. She says these bills do little to help.
“They don't even come close to ending child marriage,” she said.
Republican Sen. Margaret O’Brien from Portage and Republican Sen. Rick Jones from Grand Ledge penned the bills. They say they decided on 16 years old because it’s the legal age of consent. But Reiss argues marriage is a legal contract, which is different than having sex.
“Retaining an attorney, taking legal action to get a divorce, these are very difficult if not impossible before the age of 18,” said Reiss.
Jones expressed initial concern with raising the legal age to 18.
“We’re thinking that there may be some pushback from people saying, ‘You know, I have a daughter who is very mature, she's become pregnant at 17 and she would like to enter a marriage and why would you not allow that?’”
State records indicate the majority of child marriages involve 16- and 17-year-old girls. Additionally, research shows wives under the age of 18 are highly likely to suffer physical abuse.
When Target 8 shared that information with Jones, he agreed that raising the legal age limit to 18 years old would be better.
“Do I really think a 14, 15, 17 year old should ever get married? No, never,” Jones said. “They are simply not mature enough to sign a contract."
Jones says he is now preparing amendments to the bill that would raise the age to 18. If the majority of the committee agrees, the bills will be amended.
That Senate Judiciary Committee hearing is set 3 p.m. Tuesday. The public is welcome to speak.