My Georgia ancestors were 26 years old and 16 years old when they married. They lived together in holy matrimony, apparently peacefully and happily, until his death in 1864. Their marriage resulted in 8 children who helped populate the Oak Flat community of East Texas. Many of our genealogies look something like that, and sometimes that beloved grandmother and great-grandmother was even younger than that when she married.
Lisa Suhay of The Christian Science Monitor reports on several states trying to outlaw a 'taboo' marriage practice, writing "In the state of Virginia, a 13-year-old child can legally marry an adult twice her age, and all that's needed is a clerk's consent, provided she is pregnant and has parental consent." She points out that many states allow exemptions (usually with parental or judicial consent) below their standard marriage age limits. Some lobbyists, including the National Organization for Women, have set their sights on outlawing these kind of exceptions in all 50 states, claiming they support "physical, psychological, sexual, and economic abuse." The emotional appeal to our current societal state of mind is on the side of these lobbyists, and they seemingly have the facts as well.
Marriage at 12 or 13 doesn't seem advisable to me, and I recognize that there are specific arranged marriages that children are forced into which include lifelong abuse. On the other hand, there are plenty of marriages into which both parties enter willingly -- and at a legal adult age -- in which one party (or both) suffers lifelong abuse. Arranged marriages have a long and respectable history, and can result in lifelong stability and happiness. Abraham arranged a marriage for his son Isaac, in which Abraham and (mainly) his servant were the parties who arranged it. (interestingly, in this case, the woman had a choice of whether to accept the proposal) Our current American system based on love struck feelings can also culminate in lifelong stability and happiness -- but there are as many wrecked lives in its wake as in the system of arranged marriages.
Suhay quotes Jeanne Smoot saying "The data shows it’s girls under the age 18, including some who are well under age 15, being married to adults and one-third of the time that adult is over 21." Unfortunately, article (and movement) seems long on data of how many and how old, but short on data of how these marriages turn out. Those who are against it can point to how some have turned out badly, where are the references to those that are successful? There are marriages under the legal exceptions that turn out badly, but what percentage of the whole are they? Are lawmakers throwing out the baby with the bathwater? And have they asked what are the unintended consequences of no exceptions?
It strikes me as a strange approach from groups like the National Organization for Women, who promote for a woman's right over her own body for abortions -- even promoting sexual promiscuity in teenagers -- and yet want the state to take over the right in these exceptional cases. In broader context, some of these protest groups give the aura that marriage as an institution is a form of physical, psychological and sexual abuse. In NOW had their way, I'm sure they would not have let Mary marry Joseph!
Marlena Hartz with the Tahirih Justice Center says, "Child pregnancy should trigger alarm bells, not wedding bells." I can agree with that. It is a good thing to discourage and prevent as much as is possible both child sexual activity and child pregancy. In cases of rape, the rapist should be imprisoned rather than being allowed to marry the victim. But I also find it a little unusual and unbelievable that hordes of child rapists are trying to marry their victims. I'd like to see proof beyond what was submitted. (Yes, if the person is underage and pregnant, they have been raped, whether statutorily or otherwise). It is furthermore not true that all cases of exceptional marriage include underage girls who are pregnant.
We should discourage teenage sexual activity and child marriages. We should discourage all sexual activity outside of marriage. We should prosecute and punish rapists. In our haste to succeed in these areas, let's not produce unforeseeable and unintended consequences by disallowing all exceptions. The parents and the legal system looking at specific cases should usually provide the needed protection for exceptional marriages. If not, let's see why it doesn't and address those problems in a less invasive way to outlawing it altogether.