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Four States Down: How New Jersey Banned Child Marriage

Today, child marriage is still legal in 46 states. In June 2018, Governor Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill 427 into law, making New Jersey the second state to ban child marriage without exceptions.

“In New Jersey, we are dedicated to protecting children by putting an end to child marriages by raising the minimum age to 18,” said Gov. Murphy. “I am proud to join with the Legislature to make New Jersey a national leader on this important human rights issue.”

Before the passage of this legislation, minors who were 16 or 17 could marry with parental consent. Minors under the age of 16 could marry with parental consent and a state judge’s approval. Now, the law states that people must be 18 to marry, with no exceptions. Judges in New Jersey now also have the power to nullify a marriage if it was entered into by minors.

The legislation which called to end child marriage was first introduced in New Jersey in February 2016 and passed in their state Legislature in spring 2017. However, it faced a conditional veto that year from former governor Chris Christie. In New Jersey, a conditional veto is a veto in which the Governor objects to a part(s) of a bill, proposes amendments that would make it passable, then sends it back to the Legislature for approval.

In his conditional veto, Christie proposed an exception that would allow a judge to approve marriage for 16- and 17-year-olds. Passing a ban on child marriage without exceptions, he argued, would “violate the cultures and traditions of some communities in New Jersey-based on religious traditions.”

However, despite mounting opposition from politicians and religious sects alike, legislation banning child marriage was reintroduced in January 2018 and sent to Gov. Murphy’s desk by June of that same year.

The long fight to get the bill to Gov. Murphy’s desk started three years earlier with Unchained at Last, a New Jersey-based nonprofit dedicated to ending child marriage. The organization’s founder –– child marriage survivor Fraidy Reiss–– even helped author the bill. The National Organization for Women of New Jersey and Human Rights Watch also supported the legislation.

Tremendous progress has been made in passing similar legislation across the country. Following in Delaware and New Jersey’s steps, Pennsylvania and Minnesota have also banned child marriage. However, that’s only four states. There is still a lot of work to be accomplished.

By elevating survivors’ voices, engaging stakeholders, working with existing advocates and organizations, and capitalizing on the organizing power of students, Students Against Child Marriage 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.

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