Before the passing of a new bill, Floridians could get married at the age of just 16. Now, the Florida Senate passed a unanimous bill no longer allowing anyone under 18 to get married legally in the state of Florida. This bill, known as SB140, will also make issuing a marriage license to anyone under 18 a misdemeanor.
This bill is sponsored by Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Florida senator from Ft. Myers who claims marriage has been used as a loophole allowing for the sexual abuse of children. These child marriages happen nationwide, despite the U.S. Department of Health arguing they are an abuse of human rights.
SB140 attempted to create no exceptions when it came to marriage licenses for Floridians under 18 years old. A recent amendment by Heather Fitzenhagen is currently fighting for an exception in which minors of 16 or 17 years in age can be married in cases of pregnancy if their partners are within two years older than them.
Media spotlight turned to Florida last year as Sherry Johnson’s story was under investigation. Johnson was forced into marrying her abuser at just 11 years old. This story, and others like it, have led state leaders to fight for the protection of children in these situations.
The Florida Senate is currently torn on the current exception amendment allowing for marriage in these cases of teen pregnancy. While senators such as Benacquisto understand the importance of protecting minors from abuse, others feel the need to account for real-life situations like teen pregnancy.
There have reportedly been more than 1800 marriage licenses issued for minors between 2012 and 2016 in the state of Florida. For more information, read the full report by Allison Neilson from Sunshine State News.