Opinion: Forced Marriage is Outdated and Wrong

“There’s no place in civilized society for the early or forced marriage of children. These traditions may date back centuries; they have no place in the 21st century. These are issues of right and wrong — in any culture.” – Former President Barack Obama

I remember films I watched as a child where princesses were 16 years old and waiting to marry their prince charming. After growing up and finishing four years of college, I watch 16-year-old Scarlett O’Hare from “Gone with the Wind” marry men – including her cousin – decades beyond her age, because it was “common” at the time. Seeing as I’m struggling to get my grades and life together before I graduate, I cannot imagine marrying that young.

How times have changed in America. I feel empowered by the opportunities now available for women. It makes me grateful to grow up in a household where I have the choice to either marry who I love or not marry
at all.

Despite progress in our nation, this is not always the case for some young girls.

At 10 years old, Sherry Johnson found out she was pregnant. Fifty years later, her story of being forced by her parents to get married at 11 years old to the deacon who raped her, inspired the recent passing of a Florida bill banning underage marriage.

Millions of female victims like Johnson established a platform to stand up and share their stories on sexual harassment and assault through movements such as #MeToo. And yet, HB335 exempts pregnant 16 year old minors to legally marry with parental consent. This exception to the law shows that while progress has been made, the fight to prevent young girls from being taken advantage of is not yet over.

According to the Tahirih Justice Center, there is no minimum age for marriage in 26 states. In almost every other state, people cannot get married until they reach the age of adulthood — 18 years old.

States like Oregon and Nebraska allow legal underage marriage at age 17 with parental consent. In Massachusetts, girls can do the same at age 12.

But why do we allow our future generation of women to marry at such a young age?

An article from Business Insider said most of these marriages happen in southern rural states that have high poverty rates and are the home to religious parents who see marriage as a solution to underage pregnancy.

In an NPR interview, author and neuroscientist Dr. Sandra Aamodt, said the brain is only halfway developed at age 18.

“So the changes that happen between 18 and 25 are a continuation of the process that starts around puberty, and 18 year olds are about halfway through that process,” Aamodt said. “Their prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed. That is the part of the brain that helps you to inhibit impulses and to plan and organize your behavior to reach a goal.”

I think it is strange that, if our brains are not even halfway developed until we are 18, why do we think the best decision is to allow our girls to make these kinds of choices prematurely?

Rep. Heather Fitzhagen (R) is one of the heroes who is currently fighting to transform Florida HB335 amendment by blocking underage marriage when there is a greater than two-year age gap between 16 or 17 year olds and their partners.

If there are two things I have learned from all of this, it is this:

If I, as a future mother, do not take full responsibility in training my sons how to treat and respect future generations of girls and people, they will learn it elsewhere. And if I do not encourage, educate and believe in my daughters to reach their full potential, then they will find that love and support elsewhere
as well.

Our nation is still progressing, and we are America. We are not a country that should allow forced marriages or any nature of Johnson’s story to
reoccur.

It is up to us to train our future generations of men and women to stand against what is wrong and encourage them to be the best artists, politicians, scientists, activists, doctors, wives, husbands, mothers, fathers and humans they can possibly be.

Like the princess films I watched growing up, everyone wants the perfect happily ever after. But unfortunately, some are still fighting extra hard to make it happen.

 

 

Gormley is an opinion writer.

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