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The New Jersey Senate approved legislation that would establish an absolute ban on anyone getting married before the age of 18.

The Senate on Thursday approved the bill in a 30-5 vote. It still has to go through the Assembly and be signed by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy if it is to become law.

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.

“I am proud New Jersey is taking the lead nationally on this issue,” Sen. Nellie Pou, D-Passaic/Bergen, a bill sponsor, said in a statement. “Marriage is a legal contract and it should be reserved for adults.”

She added, “It is startling for people to learn that there are underage marriages happening in New Jersey, but there are.”

Another sponsor, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said in the statement: “Marriage is an adult decision and minors shouldn’t be asked to enter into this kind of arrangement for any reason.”

Democratic Sen. Sandra Cunningham of Hudson County also is a sponsor.

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.

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.

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. He proposed an outright ban on marriages for minors under the age of 16, and judicial approval for marriages for minors age 16 and 17.

“An exclusion without exception would violate the cultures and traditions of some communities in New Jersey based on religious traditions,” he wrote at the time, also calling it “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.”

Michael Booth

Trenton Bureau Chief New Jersey Law Journal American Lawyer Media mbooth@alm.com Twitter: @mboothnjlj

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