The state of Texas/FLDS fiasco at Eldorado brings up a question I ask with trepidation -- at what age can a person biblically and morally enter into consent to marry? There are at least three parts to viewing the marriage question: (1) what is legal; (2) what is moral/Biblical; and (3) what is wise.
Legal. Laws vary from state to state in the U.S., as well as varying from nation to nation. In Texas, a person 16 or older but under 18 years of age applying for a marriage license must have parental consent to the marriage or a court order granted under Section 2.103 authorizing the marriage (this is probably for cases when the parents are deceased). A person under 16 may not legally marry in the state of Texas. A person married in the state of Texas may not legally marry if presently married to a another person. So the Fundamentalist Mormons in Eldorado, Texas are (if what we hear is true) in violation of the laws of the state in which they live. This might not apply were they living somewhere else.
Moral. What is legal is not necessarily what is moral.1 Is marriage of children under a certain legal age immoral? I am not asking whether specific instances are immoral, but is the practice inherently immoral? In other words, is it always a sin for a young person under the age of 16 years, for example, to get married? Does the Bible speak to the issue of when a child becomes old enough to enter into a marriage? How much are people of different cultures bound to think their cultural practice is what is morally acceptable rather than looking to the Bible for what is morally acceptable?
It is not unusual for Biblical studies to place Mary's age between 12 and 16 years old at the birth of Jesus, and consider Joseph as an older man.2 Over the past 30 years, I have heard a number of preachers mention this, apparently agreeing with it. Assuming that is true, why would God allow Himself to enter earthly life through a teenage girl? We would never call either the Holy Ghost or Joseph child molesters. Again, assuming this is true, why would God put His stamp of approval on a home based on a marriage that was immoral?
Wise. Regardless of the answer to whether there is a settled age under which it is immoral to marry and over which it is not immoral to marry, I cannot imagine that it is wise for every person to get married just as soon as he or she possibly can.
1. There is an element in the New Testament that places a certain morality in obedience to the law, unless the law causes one to disobey God.
2. The proposed ages are based on Jewish custom and other external factors. The Bible does not indicate how old either Mary or Joseph were in relation to Jesus' birth or to one another.