Four States Down: How Minnesota Banned Child Marriage
On May 12, 2020, Minnesota became the fourth state to ban child marriage without exceptions when Governor Walz signed HF 745 into law. This victory came just five days after Pennsylvania became the third state to end child marriage.
“This is an important step to stop the exploitation of vulnerable Minnesotans,” said Rep. Kaohly Her (DFL-St. Paul), co-author of the bill. “700,000 people around the world were married as children, some of them here in Minnesota. For many, their marriages meant a lost childhood and years of abuse, poverty, and illness. I am proud that we have put an end to this practice in Minnesota.”
The previous law allowed 16 and 17-year-olds to obtain marriage licenses with the consent of their parents, legal guardian, or the court. HF 745 now prohibits child marriage in all circumstances, without exceptions, and requires Minnesotans to provide proof of age during the marriage application process.
However, the bill does not void existing legal unions entered into by minors. Marriages between couples who wed before moving to Minnesota will also still be recognized, but those involving Minnesotans who travel to other states to get around the ban will not.
This bill was first introduced in the state House in February 2019. It passed the House a month later with a unanimous vote and was sent to the Senate. It stalled without a hearing in the Senate, but eventually passed in May 2020 with a unanimous vote and headed to Governor Walz’s desk where it was signed into law.
In order to get this bill passed, Minnesota-based advocacy groups including the Minnesota Nurses Association, Zonta International Club of Minneapolis, and ERA Minnesota partnered with Unchained at Last to form the Minnesota Coalition to End Child Marriage. This coalition, which also included advocates from several national organizations, conducted in-depth legal research and spent months lobbying Minnesota legislators.
Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), chairman of the Senate’s judiciary committee, was one of the initial voices of opposition to a child marriage ban in the Senate. He even refused to give it a hearing at the time. However, he said that lobbying from these advocates convinced him to change his mind and support the bill.
Such advocates have been extremely effective in ending child marriage in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota by putting direct pressure on legislators to act. Students Against Child Marriage hopes to continue this tremendous progress in the remaining 46 states.
By elevating survivors’ voices, engaging stakeholders, working with existing advocates, and capitalizing on the organizing power of students, SACM is mobilizing a nationwide movement to compel lawmakers to act on child marriage reforms or to create new legislation to end this dangerous practice.
Want to learn more about the work SACM is doing legislatively? Check out our 10 State Strategic Plan here. To join us in this fight, consider starting a chapter at your school or joining our national team. Four states down, 46 more to go.