Maryland struggles to raise the minimum age for marriage

Last month we looked at changes to the minimum age laws pertaining to marriage in the state of Florida, where they were raising the threshold to 18 across the board. A similar debate is erupting in Maryland this month and it’s no less controversial. In order to be married in the Old Line State without anyone’s permission you already need to be 18, but like many states, they make allowances for younger couples who are at least 15 and who either have the consent of parents or when the girl is pregnant. In a misguided move to combat child bride scenarios, Maryland’s legislators are trying to raise that age, but the two branches of the legislature can’t decide what the final age should be. (Baltimore Sun)

With just hours remaining in the 2018 General Assembly session, the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates remain divided on the age at which a person should be permitted to marry.

Maryland law now sets a minimum marriage age of 15. The Senate has passed a bill raising it to 16. The House says 17.

A similar disagreement led to an impasse on the final day of last year’s session, and neither chamber’s bill passed.

As of midday Monday, neither the Senate nor the House had budged from its positions. The issue has been referred to a Senate-House conference committee.

For some reason, the House is insisting on a minimum age of 17 while the Senate is looking for a more modest change and making it 16. Both seem to agree that the age needs to be higher, however. This is probably one case where a divided legislature is a good thing and they should just leave well enough alone.

I’m not arguing in favor of marrying off kids at 15. It’s hardly an ideal situation in the 21st century, even though it was very common in my grandparents’ era and many of those marriages worked out just fine. But given the normal arc of maturation among American children these days, having a chance to finish all of your schooling and get your feet set on your eventual career path before taking on that level of responsibility is a definite plus. Frankly, I’d advise any young people seeking my advice to try to wait until they’re at least 21 before tying the knot.

But that’s just a matter of personal preference and opinion. I shouldn’t be making those decisions for young people. And you know who else should keep their nose out of it? The government. Honestly, the government (at all levels) should keep themselves out of the business of marriage almost entirely, with the exception of cases where considerably older men (because it’s almost always men,) are marrying underage girls. Meaningful consent the possibility of using marriage as a cover for pedophilia is a valid concern in such cases.

But particularly in situations where a pair of young lovers wind up (foolishly) conceiving a child, if they are both willing to give it a go, and particularly if they have the support of their families, why would the state stand in the way of that? No, it’s not an ideal way to start out your life together, particularly since neither of them is likely to have a job or any way of supporting a baby financially. But at least you’re giving the kid a shot at growing up in a home with both of his or her parents.

The marriage may not last, but that’s true of pairings between people of all ages. And some of those marriages actually will last. If we have to have such laws, the ones that Maryland has on the books right now seem fair enough and provide for parental supervision and involvement. Why not just leave the law as it stands and let families handle these matters?