Monday, May 13, 2024

Ben Baker among legislators "voicing concerns" about bill banning child marriages in Missouri

By Clara Bates

Lawmakers trying to ban child marriage in Missouri hope a last-minute push in the legislative session’s final days can overcome opposition from some Republicans that put the bill’s chances in doubt.

A bill outlawing 16 and 17 years old from getting married stalled in a House committee when a handful of Republicans voiced opposition. There are five days left before lawmakers adjourn for the year.

Republican state Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder of Scott City told The Independent last week that a last-ditch effort to save the legislation could take place as early as Monday, when she expects it to be added as an amendment to another bill.

“There’s more opposition than I thought there would be,” she said. “But you know, I think that overall, it’s generational, and I haven’t had any women opposed come and talk to me about this.”

Under current Missouri law, anyone under 16 is prohibited from getting married. But 16 and 17 year olds can get married with parental consent to anyone under 21.

Those in favor of the ban argue child marriage is coercive and can transform into forced marriage, especially because children lack the legal rights of adulthood. Almost all minors married to adults are girls, data shows, and child marriage is associated with higher rates of dropping out of high school and later poverty.

But while Rehder’s bill, which she co-sponsored with Democratic state Sen. Lauren Arthur of Kansas City, sailed through the Senate nearly unanimously, it is stuck in a House committee due to critics who say a ban constitutes government overreach and would clash with parental rights.

Fraidy Reiss, an activist who founded the nonprofit against forced marriage Unchained at Last and has been active in testifying in support of the bill in Missouri, called the opposition “horrifying.”

“How can anybody be opposed to legislation that costs nothing, harms no one and ends a human rights abuse?” Fraidy said in an interview with The Independent. “It is shameful it has not already passed and shameful that we’re coming up against the end of the legislative session. And we still don’t know for sure whether legislators are going to do this.”

Proponents hope to tack on the child marriage ban as an amendment to another of Rehder’s bills that deals with children. Rehder said she wants a roll call vote on the amendment, rather than a voice vote, which would show exactly how many and which legislators are opposed.

Republican state Rep. Jim Murphy of St. Louis chairs the House committee where the child marriage ban is stuck. He told The Independent that he supports ending child marriage but doesn’t have the votes to advance the bill to the full House.

Murphy said he was “surprised” that changing the minimum age of marriage from 16 to 18 got as much pushback as it did.

State Rep. Dean Van Schoiack, Republican of Savannah and the vice chair of the committee, was one of the voices in opposition.

“It’s government intrusion in people’s lives,” he said in an interview with The Independent on Friday.

Asked what would be lost if 16 and 17 year olds couldn’t get marriage permits anymore, Van Schoiack replied, “Liberties that people currently have.”

“After what’s been through the press and what people are doing, I’m not changing my position now,” he said. “I don’t typically change my mind very easily.”

Other lawmakers who voiced concerns about the bill in committee include GOP state Reps. Ben Baker of Neosho and Mitch Boggs of LaRussell.

Rehder said the concerns about government overreach are “ridiculous” because the state government already sets a minimum age, “so why not set it at the age of when you’re an adult?”

“To me, a parent should not be signing their child into a lifetime commitment. That’s a decision you make for yourself as an adult,” said Rehder, who got married at 15 and has said she didn’t realize at the time she was not operating under an adult mindset.

Until the legislature voted to raise the minimum marriage age to 16 in 2018, Missouri had among the most lenient child marriage laws in the nation — making it an especially popular state for 15-year-olds to travel to be married.

Despite the 2018 change, Missouri law still does not align with international human rights standards, which set the minimum age at 18.

Fraidy said around 70 minors every year are entered into marriage in Missouri.

“There’s no input required from the minor when they’re married — it’s their parent signing a form. There’s no recourse for a teen that doesn’t want to marry.

“And then once they’re married, they’re trapped because they can’t even file for divorce. So it’s about ending this nightmarish legal trap,” Fraidy said.

Missouri would join 12 states that have in recent years banned child marriage if the legislation passes.

Rehder said she hopes the House will attach the ban to a wide-ranging bill about children that bars the state from seizing foster children’s Social Security benefits. That bill will be handled by Republican state Rep. Wendy Hausman, Rehder said. Republican state Rep. Chris Dinkins, who is handling the House version of the child marriage bill, will be working to help Hausman get the amendment on, Rehder said.

Timing is critical, as any changes to the bill would require it to return to the Senate, which has been bogged down in gridlock for much of the legislative session.

All bills must be approved and sent to the governor by 6 p.m. Friday.


Anonymous said...

Republicans: horribly wrong on every single possible issue.

Anonymous said...

It’s not a surprise that Ben Baker isn’t on the moral side of the argument. He belongs to a cult that thinks women should have no rights.

Anonymous said...

Ben Baker worried about government overreach? Since when ? What a joke. This bill should be a no brainer.

Anonymous said...

17 and under is a 'child', 18 and over is an 'adult'.....the comment about losing liberties is asinine....what about the liberties of the 14 and 15 year olds??? oh...let's got to the 8 and 9 year olds,....what about those??? child vs. adult....

Anonymous said...

Yet Dems want these same minors to have gender transition. 18 should be minimum age to get married, no exceptions. 18 should be minimum aged for gender transition as well. However if 18 is a legal adult there should be no 21 to drink buy a pistol etc, either your an adult or not it can’t be both ways

Anonymous said...

Ben Baker thinks he can't be against child marriage and win elections in SW Missouri, and he might be right.

Anonymous said...

Ben Baker probably thinks he is on a mission from god, and child marriage is just one prong of the manure fork.

Anonymous said...

This Democrat agrees with you. The issue with your statement is that you believe everything you hear on your right wing channels and blogs. Most democrats would agree with everything you just said. However a lot of you Republicans allow idiots to whip them into some kinda frenzy. Set down with a Democrat friend and have a real discussion about topics. You might find that your views are quite similar.

Anonymous said...

Individually that might be true, but I have to tow the party line just as you do, major party differences, abortion, guns,spending. However I do believe we both think we are right 😂. From one republican to a democrat have a good day.