You now have to be 18 years-old to be married in the state of Connecticut. Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz signed a bill into law Friday increasing the legal age to be married from 16 to 18.
Connecticut is the ninth state to outlaw child marriages. Massachusetts outlawed the practice last year.
Bysiewicz said girls suffer disproportionately from child marriages.
“We think this is a very important day for the protection of girls and young women, especially, because almost all of the child marriages that happened in Connecticut, happened with girls and young women,” Bysciewicz said.
Bysciewicz is also chair of the state Governor's Council on Women and Girls. She believes the law is necessary because the state’s previous marital law had a loophole which allowed a probate judge to issue a marriage certificate to children.
The law did require parental consent to marry. However, Bysiewicz said that was part of the problem.
“We heard stories from advocates about parents that actually forced their children to marry adults,” Bysciewicz said.
Governor Ned Lamont’s office released a statement supporting the signing of the new law. According to the governor’s office, 1,251 child marriages are known to have been registered in Connecticut between 2000 and 2021.
Fraidy Reiss, founder of ‘Unchained At Last’, an advocacy organization which opposes child marriage, said it was challenging to get the attention of state lawmakers.
Reiss characterized Connecticut as relatively late to banning child marriage in the Northeast. She said most of the children forced into child marriages were girls, some as young as 14.
But while the bill received bipartisan support in the state Senate, there were 45 no votes from the state general assembly, which surprised Reiss.
“The shocking thing in Connecticut was the number of no votes,” Reiss said. “We just haven't seen that in any other state, this level of pushback from both sides of the aisle in one chamber.”
Reiss said workers with ‘Unchained At Last’ reached out to every state legislator. Some ignored them, others refused to speak to her group.
The ones that did, and opposed the bill she said, didn’t understand the severity of the issue.
“What we heard from legislators were things like, ‘well, let's say two 17 year-olds are in love, and they want to get married,” Reiss said.
Reiss called forced marriage a human rights abuse and can speak from experience.
She grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community in New York and her parents forced her into an arranged marriage that became abusive. Reiss founded the group after escaping the marriage.
Being an adult doesn’t necessarily mean a person is now mature, she said. But an 18 year-old who is married is entitled to rights that a minor simply doesn’t have. That’s the goal.
“You simply don't have those rights before 18,” she said. “The basic rights to leave home, for example, to get into a domestic violence shelter, to retain an attorney to bring a legal action in your own name.”
This story is a production of the New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by Connecticut Public Radio.