New Jersey lawmakers are making a second attempt to enact legislation to establish an absolute bar to marriage for anyone under the age of 18.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on April 5, in a 9-2 vote, recommended passage of the latest version, S-427. It must still go through both houses of the Legislature before it reaches the desk of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.
Former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, conditionally vetoed identical legislation last May.
If enacted, New Jersey would be the only state in the nation that would bar those under 18 from marrying. And judicial approval for underage marriages would no longer be allowed, unlike the present system.
Under current law, minors who are 16 or 17 can get married with parental consent. Minors under the age of 16 can be married after obtaining parental consent and the approval of a Superior Court judge.
The bill is sponsored by Democratic Sens. Nellie Pou of Passaic County, Loretta Weinberg of Bergen County and Sandra Cunningham of Hudson County.
Christie, in issuing his veto, said the ban would be too draconian, out of conformity with standard practices throughout the rest of the country, and run counter to some religious customs.
Advocates of the ban argued before legislative committees last year that at least 170,000 children nationwide between 2000 and 2010 were forced into arranged marriages—primarily between younger girls and older men—and that many of the relationships involved physical and mental abuse.
In his conditional veto message, Christie proposed an outright ban on marriages for minors under the age of 16, and judicial approval for marriages for minors age 16 and 17.
“I agree that protecting the well-being, dignity, and freedom of minors is vital, but the severe bar this bill creates is not necessary to address the concerns raised by the bill’s proponents and does not comport with the sensibilities and, in some cases, religious customs of the people of this state,” Christie said.
“An exclusion without exception would violate the cultures and traditions of some communities in New Jersey based on religious traditions,” he said.
Lastly, Christie noted that there was some hypocrisy in the bill.
“It is disingenuous to hold that a 16-year-old may never consent to marriage, although New Jersey law permits the very same 16-year-old to consent to sex or obtain an abortion without so much as parental knowledge, let alone consent,” Christie said. “That inconsistency in logic undercuts the alleged logic of an outright ban.”
On April 5, Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Bergen, who joined Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Warren, in voting against the bill, echoed Christie’s concerns, and added thoughts of their own.
Cardinale said there was no provision in the bill from preventing a “50-year-old man and a 16-year-old girl” from traveling to another state to get married.
“You got something going on we don’t know about?” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari, D-Union.
“No, I’m over 50,” Cardinale replied.
Cardinale, like Christie, called it incongruous that a girl under 18 could not get married, but could obtain an abortion without parental consent or advisement.