Despite lawmakers’ best efforts to keep Kentucky stuck in the past, the Commonwealth may be stepping out of the Dark Ages (at least on this issue), by raising the legal-marriage age to 18 years old… for the most part.
Senate Bill 48 would make an exception for 17-year-olds under certain circumstances. A judge may grant a 17-year-old permission to marry if their spouse is not more than four years older, if they can demonstrate their maturity and independence, and if it’s determined to be in the minor’s best interest. The parents would be allowed to testify for or against, but the court would have final say.
But how can one justify a 17-year-old being allowed to marry?
This exemption reeks of patriarchy: Old men enabling other men to marry girls.
It will endanger minors and reinforce a society of subservient women.
Certainly, the goal of the bill was to protect young children from older, sexual predators — which is particularly important in Kentucky, a state with the third highest rate of child marriages.
But if the purpose of this law is to protect children from sexual predators and bad, abusive or neglectful parents… then protect the kids! Here’s a better law: No minor should be allowed to marry. Marriage should be limited to adults — people over the age of 18. Done!
There is no reasonable scenario in which marriage before 18 is better for a minor. All benefits and protections that come with marriage are already afforded to minors — or could be extended to them without exposing them to a legally-binding relationship.
Further, the lengths lawmakers went to preserve an exemption for 17-year-olds demonstrates the enduring resistance of some to empowering young women.
Minors can’t drink legally.
They can’t buy a pack of smokes legally.
They can’t vote…
But if a 17-year-old can prove her “maturity and capacity for self-sufficiency,” she can get married?
It’s important that lawmakers undertook this legislation — keeping 13-year-olds out of wedlock is important. But some lawmakers are stuck in the good ol’ days.
Republican state Sen. Dan Seum voted against the bill, arguing that a pregnant teenage girl shouldn’t be prevented from marrying the father of their unborn child. Seum, a 78-year-old man, seems more concerned that these teenage girls are looked after, by a man, rather than protecting more teenage girls from becoming pregnant.
Make no mistake, Seum, teenage marriage will lead to more teen pregnancies.
Republican Sen. Al Robinson, an 80-year-old man, also voted against the bill, saying that his mother-in-law was married at 15 — and it worked out for her.
Well, in that case…
Why is anyone in such a rush to get married?
It’s no more complicated than that. Whether the rationale is love or family planning — or predatory — it’s all about sex. And, for many (most? all?) of these men, marriage allows them to control their wives — financial control, education control and freedom control.
Let’s not make this more complicated than it really is: Some men are sexual predators. And the realities are, some parents are not able to care for or protect their children. These laws are made to protect children from predators, as well as from bad parents.
This is an important law. It would save children from sexual predators.
But, while Kentucky steps out of the Dark Ages, how about we jump all the way into the 21st century by protecting all kids?