Republicans Are Really Into This Whole Child Marriage Thing

House Republicans in Missouri are blocking a bill that would prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from getting a marriage license. Their argument? Child marriage will lead to fewer abortions. 

Republicans Are Really Into This Whole Child Marriage Thing
The Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City. Photo: Wikimedia

For the second week in a row, Republicans in state legislatures are making the interesting choice of fighting for child marriage. In Missouri, where children 16 or older can marry with parental permission, a bill to prohibit anyone under age 18 from getting a marriage license easily cleared the Republican-controlled Senate 31 to one last month. But now, the bill can’t get out of committee in the state House because seven out of 14 committee members are House Republicans who oppose the bill.

Those opponents include Rep. Hardy Billington (R), who insists without any evidence or logic whatsoever that banning child marriage will lead to a spike in abortions, even as abortion is totally banned in the state. “My opinion is that if someone [wants to] get married at 17, and they’re going to have a baby and they cannot get married, then chances of abortion are extremely high,” he told the Kansas City Star this week. Earlier this week, I also had to write about a different Republican lawmaker in New Hampshire who used the same argument against a bill to ban child marriage. This doesn’t make sense—if someone of any age is pregnant and doesn’t want to be, they’ll probably seek abortion care; this actually has nothing to do with marriage.

Another opponent of the bill, Rep. Dean Van Schoiack (R), told the Star that he opposes the bill because he knows someone who got married as a 17-year-old girl and is still married. “Why is the government getting involved in people’s lives like this?” Van Schoiak said.

Of course, if we’re bringing anecdotes and lived experience into this, I think I trust state Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder (R), who introduced the bill, a little more than Van Schoiack. “As a child that did get married, I would say I have a lot more insight to this issue than what he does,” Rehder said of Van Schoiack. Per the Star, Rehder got married at 15 to a 21-year-old, while her sister at 16 married her 39-year-old drug dealer. “The government does tell people when they can get married because we do have an age limit right now. The fact that [Van Schoiack] feels that it’s OK for a parent to make a decision for a child, that is a lifetime decision, is offensive.”

At this point, I would like to note that Rehder, who is currently running for lieutenant governor, might be right about this one thing, but is wrong about… pretty much everything else. Rehder supports the state’s total abortion ban and campaigned on a pledge to promote “the Trump Agenda” in her district in Southeast Missouri.

Nonetheless, if her bill doesn’t make it to a vote before the end of the legislative session on May 17, Rehder, who’s currently running for lieutenant governor, said she plans to introduce it as an amendment attached to another bill. She told the Star she’s confident that brought to the floor for a vote, the bill would have a majority…but right now, it’s simply being held up by its Republican opponents on committee.

Rehder’s bill comes after Missouri lawmakers in 2018 raised the state’s minimum marriage age to 16 with parental approval following backlash at the time over how many 15-year-olds in the state were being married. Currently, Missouri prohibits marriage between a minor and someone who is 21 or older, similar to the state’s statutory rape laws that prohibit sexual intercourse between someone 21 and older and someone under 17. This is all pretty needlessly confusing, but what isn’t confusing is that this is part of a pattern of Republican lawmakers going to bat for child marriage—from the state representative in New Hampshire who insisted that “ripe” and “fertile” teens should be able to marry, to a different Missouri lawmaker who last year declared that 12-year-olds should be able to get married because he personally knew someone who married at 12 (I mean, I hope they’re doing well today, but somehow, I, err, have my doubts…).

Experts and advocates against child trafficking have long pointed to how laws that permit child marriage put them at greater risk. The bill in Missouri’s legislature is notably part of a bipartisan effort, introduced by Rehder and Democrat Lauren Arthur. But despite Rehder’s best efforts, their bill is being blocked by members of her own party, even as Republican politicians have spent the better part of the last few years escalating their baseless and fearmongering smears of queer people as child sexual predators. As it turns out based on the political affiliations of every lawmaker fighting tooth-and-nail for child marriage (and, consequently, adult predators’ ability to marry children), the call might just be coming from inside the house—the Missouri state House, specifically.

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