The Louisiana legislature killed a bill this weekend that would have ended child marriages in the state after fierce debate and stiff opposition from conservative voices emerged.
Under current law, children under the age of 18 require parental consent to be married with a judge’s blessing being necessary for certain circumstances, such as marriages involving a person under the age of 16, according to NOLA.com.
The current law has allowed around 4,500 children under the age of 18 to be married in Louisiana from 2000 to 2010. In one instance, a child as young as 12 was married.
A proposal from the state Senate was set to deny any marriage from occurring if it was under the age of 16, and an amendment in the House version of the bill would have banned marriages for people under the age of 17.
But opponents of both ideas were headstrong in their desires to keep in place the right of Louisiana citizens to marry kids. Some cited the supposed sanctity of marriage in their complaints, and argued that teenagers who become pregnant should not be restricted from being able to ensure their child wasn’t born out of wedlock.
“If they’re both 16-years-old, and they both consent to sexual relations, and they’re about to have a baby, why wouldn’t we want them to be married?” Republican Rep. Nancy Landry asked.
“It’s really disturbing to me, because a lot of 16-year-olds are very mature,” she later added.
Proponents of the measure, meanwhile, pointed out that child marriages can be used as a means of sex trafficking or hiding the rape of a child.
“This is to make sure we don’t have people covering up acts of rape as a marriage. This is a child protection issue,” Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, a Republican from New Orleans, said.
Some men in their 30s and 40s are reportedly marrying younger children, according to reporting from The Advocate. “That’s not right in our state,” said Rep. Pat Smith (D). “We need to protect children.
But one lawmaker who was against the bill cited her own experience, stating she could have married her husband when she was younger.
“[I]f it wasn’t for the belief that we should get a high school diploma before we get married, I would have gotten married at 15,” Rep. Beryl Amedee (R) said,
Louisiana isn’t the only state in the country to have to face the problem of child marriages. Across the nation between 2000 and 2010, there were almost a quarter of a million such marriages. In most cases, it’s a girl who is the younger of the two people getting married, and in 77 percent of those instances, it’s a young girl marrying an adult man.
A similar effort to end child marriages in Idaho was pushed for earlier this year. It, too, was defeated in the state legislature by conservative lawmakers. Idaho has the highest rate of child marriages out of any state in the country, the Idaho Statesman reported.
Featured image: Louisiana House of Representatives