'It's not 1880'

Gov. Whitmer signs ban on child marriage

Michigan is only the 10th state in the country to ban child marriage. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a bill that would protect minors by outlawing child marriage in the state on Sept. 27th.

The law raises the minimum age at which one can consent to a marriage to 18. House Bill 4302 (HB2302), alters parts of the Michigan Penal Code to remove any reference to a spouse under the age of 16, to make the code line up with the new ban.

“I am committed to keeping Michiganders — especially young women — safe and healthy, and today’s bipartisan bill fully implements Michigan’s ban on child marriage,” Whitmer said in a statement. 

In addition to HB4302, the governor previously signed Senate Bills 56, 209, 212, 213, 216 and House Bills 4202, 4299, 4300. They all aim to protect children, specifically parental consent to a marriage, and sexual assault survivors, including survivors that are married to their abuser. 

Many Central Michigan University students were unaware of this big change. Noah Sussex, a junior studying mechanical engineering, said he thought the legal age to consent to marriage was still 16, per so-called "Romeo and Juliet laws." 

Those laws shield youths from felony charges when one partner in a consensual relationship is above the legal age and the other is at the age of consent. In Michigan, the legal age of consent is 16, and state code says the elder participant may be no more than four years older than the younger. 

“(Changing the minimum age requirement for marriage) seems better because it is now leaving legal adults to make legal decisions,” Sussex said.  

Politics, Society, Justice and Public Service Professor Thomas Grietens said in his state and local government class they talk about marriage differences across the states and the political culture of the state. 

“Some states have a traditionalistic culture," Greitens said, "Other states do not. I think some of these states have different (or) many societies and societal norms. I think religion plays a role in some of these states, especially down South, that do allow earlier marriage. So I think (child marriage is) more (because of) cultural things (rather than) political things, even."

Anna Cassiopi, a freshman going into secondary education, said that the reason she thinks many individuals are married off so young are because of their families and their family’s beliefs. 

After being told the age has been changed, many individuals agreed that the age change seems right and fit with the changing times. 

“It's no longer 1880," Greitens said. Society has changed and I think this change kind of reflects where we're at in modern society. 

"But make no mistake about it, there's still many states out there where, you know, non-adults can get married. I think that's a little, a little frightening for us ... in 2023.”

For more in depth information on the child marriage ban, read Governor Whitmer’s press releases here.