Marriage will now only be possible for 16- and 17-year-olds in the state of Arizona under certain conditions, due to a bill signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey (R) this week.
HB 2006 establishes age 16 as the minimum age for marriage, but only if one of two conditions apply: the minor has been legally emancipated, or a parent consents to the marriage. In either case, the prospective spouse can be no more than three years older than the minor.
Data gathered by the Tahirih Justice Center has shown that up to 200,000 minors in the United States were married between the years 2000 and 2014, nearly always to adult men who are sometimes decades older.
In its testimony to the Arizona State House of Representatives, Tahirih Justice Center pointed out that “child marriage is a serious problem in Arizona. In the past five years and in Maricopa County alone, 525 marriage licenses were issued to minors. Most were girls, and some were married to men in their 30s or 40s.”
Arizona is also home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), the fundamentalist sect of the Mormon church that has been in trouble with the law for underage and polygamous marriage in the past. Media reports have estimated that the Colorado City-Hilldale community on the Arizona-Utah border is home to 7,500–10,000 FLDS members.
One of the problems with underage marriage is that minors are unable to enter legally binding contracts, meaning, for example, a 16-year-old girl can marry, but she can’t hire a lawyer or initiate a divorce until she turns 18. She also likely can’t seek safety in domestic violence shelters or rent a hotel room.
In Arizona, emancipated youth are allowed to enter legal contracts.
Tahirih, which advocates for age 18 as the floor for marriage without exception, recognized the bill as progress, but in its testimony pointed out the many flaws that come with allowing anyone to marry before they are legally adults.
Outcomes for those who marry as minors are often dismal, according to the center’s research:
- Between 70 and 80 percent of marriages involving individuals younger than 18 end in divorce, and for teen mothers this can double their likelihood of living in poverty.
- Girls who marry before the age of 19 are 50 percent more likely to drop out of high school and four times less likely to graduate from college.
- A study of U.S. women who married as children found that they experienced significantly higher rates of psychiatric disorders