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The History of Child Marriage Legislation in California

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

February 20, 2019

Anna Bryan

California has been on the forefront of humanitarian progress.

In 2015, California became the first state to enact human rights accountability legislation. The reform bill supports victims of human trafficking by extending the time for filing human trafficking claims in court. The time period was extended from two years to ten years making California the first state to offer survivors of human rights abuses an extended period to file their claims in court.

In 2016, California lawmakers passed first-of-its-kind legislation that allows farm workers to get paid overtime like all other workers.

We are perplexed. Why would one of the more progressive states in the country not ban Child Marriage?

California has no minimum age for marriage and allows minors to marry with the permission of a judge and parent.

In September 2018, additional restrictions on Child Marriage were enacted in California. As of January 1, 2019 partners and the parents of minors will have to meet separately with court officials who can assess whether there is abuse or coercion.

However, this new legislation is not comprehensive. This is only an incremental step in protecting children from coerced marriage. "While the original version of the bill would have eliminated all marriage before 18, the current version contains alarming loopholes that would seriously endanger children – particularly girls," wrote Unchained at Last, an advocacy group pushing for age minimums for marriage across the country. The advocates at Unchained at Last successfully banned Child Marriage in Delaware and New Jersey.

In March 2017, Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo issued a press release to advocate for an end to Child Marriage in California. “While we respect all cultures and faiths, we cannot support practices that rob youth of their childhood,” said Senator Hill, D-San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.

What happened? The bill faced opposition from the ACLU. “We’re not convinced that banning legal marriage will stop these coercive relationships from happening,” said Phyllida Burlingame, the reproductive justice policy director at the ACLU of California. “They will push these young women further from the reach of social services.”

After facing opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union and some lawmakers, Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, altered the bill to remove the prohibition and instead call for more stringent judicial screening of child brides and grooms.

The final version of SB 273 was not the powerful legislation needed in the state of California.

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