ST. PAUL — About a dozen women dressed in wedding gowns and chained wrists on Thursday, Feb. 13, rallied at the Capitol in an effort to outlaw marriages before age 18.
The group along with several young men with black X-es taped over their lips held a news conference before marching to the Capitol rotunda to sing, chant and share stories about marriages between 16- and 17-year-olds and older adults. The group sought to pass a bill before the Minnesota Legislature that would raise the legal age to marry to 18 and require those seeking a marriage license to prove their ages.
Under current law, 16 and 17-year-olds can be married with parental consent.
Rep. Kaohly Her, D-St. Paul, and Sen. Sandy Pappas, D-St. Paul, brought the legislation last year and it unanimously passed in the House of Representatives but failed to pass in the Senate. They pointed to aggregate survey data in the state that showed at least 1,142 15 to 17-year-olds reported that they were married or had been married and said early marriages often occur between teenage girls and significantly older men.
She said that when she was a teenager an older man asked for her father's permission for her hand in marriage. Her father refused, saying she should attend college before getting married. And that decision by her father, acting as her advocate, significantly changed her life, Her said.
"We as adults, we are the ones who know better and so we should do better to protect our children," Her said.
Dawn Tyree, who became pregnant as a teenager and married her child's father, said the experience scarred her and her minor status at the time kept her from obtaining services and supports she and her children needed. Tyree said she hoped to prevent other young people from experiencing the same situation.
"All too often, these children are coerced into these marriages and by providing these loopholes, it just perpetuates the child marriage, the inequality and the human rights (abuses) that we need to put an end to," Tyree said. "And if it's not us speaking to this issue, then who will?"
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, declined to hold a hearing on the proposal last year, but said Thursday he planned to take up the bill in the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. And while he'd had concerns about the measure last year because it could lead to legal issues if the state didn't accept the marriages of 16 and 17-year-olds in other states, he said he'd likely support it this year.
“It’s almost like buying a bride and that should never happen in this state,” Limmer said. “After considering and weighing the legal principles against the intention of the bill, I’m becoming sold on the idea that it’s the proper thing to do.”