Child Marriage Bill Passes the Massachusetts House of Representatives

As part of the Fiscal Year 2023 House Budget debate, An Act to End Child Marriage was adopted. This bill was filed by Representatives Kay Khan (D-Newton) and Paul Donato (D-Medford) during the 192nd Session as H.1709 then filed as a budget amendment by House Minority Leader, Representative Brad Jones (R-North Reading). This week, the Massachusetts House of Representatives unanimously passed the legislation to end the practice of child marriage under the age of 18 which is considered a human rights abuse by the U.S. State Department.

Thanks to the leadership of Speaker Ron Mariano, House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz, and House Judiciary Chair Michael Day, Massachusetts joins the list of states taking a stance to ban the marriage of children. Most recently on June 2nd 2021, Rhode Island and New York passed legislation to remove statutory language that allowed for minors to enter marriages with parental consent. This led State Representative Kay Khan (D-Newton) to call on her colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature to end the practice of child marriage in the Commonwealth.  Rhode Island and New York most recently joined New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota as the only states in the country that have completely banned child marriage.

As minors, married children face many obstacles when they try to leave or resist such a marriage. “If you are a married child and you are still a minor, you do not have adult rights,” said Representative Kay Khan. “You cannot file for divorce, annulment, protective order, rent an apartment, open a checking account, or seek services from the Department of Children and Families. A minor cannot purchase cigarettes, join the military, vote, or serve on a jury, but in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and 44 other states, they can marry.” Likewise, married minors are subject to a unique power dynamic stemming from a legal predicament in which their parental guardians and spouses have more legal freedom as adults.

 “I am proud to have voted in favor of this common-sense provision to reform Massachusetts’s

marriage laws and protect our youth,” said Representative Adrian Madaro. “There is no good reason for Massachusetts to allow minors to enter into life-altering contracts. I’m thankful to my House colleagues for unanimously adopting this important legislation”.

1,246 children as young as 14 were married in Massachusetts between 2000 and 2018 and 89.9 percent (1,107) of them were girls wed to adult men. In 2020 alone, 14 petitions were filed for the marriage of minors to adults in the Commonwealth.

The final passage will be debated in the House-Senate Conference Committee on the Fiscal Year 2023 budget. Senator Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester) filed companion bill, S.937 this session and last session Senator Chandler filed a similar bill which passed unanimously in the Senate in July 2019. If passed, the bill will close the loophole in Massachusetts allowing for child marriage with parental and judicial consent and will empower children in the Commonwealth.

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