New Jersey was set to become the first state in the U.S. to institute a ban on child marriage with no exceptions, but high-profile Governor Chris Christie vetoed the bill and sent it back to the state legislature last week in a move that surprised many.
The bipartisan bill was sponsored by Republican Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, and several conservative news sites have strongly disagreed with this decision as well, despite Christie being a member of the Republican party.
The bill was brought forth after members of the state’s legislature heard emotional stories of underage girls being married off within the U.S. for a number of reasons, and mostly with the complete support of their own parents.
Despite these compelling examples, thousands of which have occurred within New Jersey over the last twenty years, Christie cited the interference with “religious customs” as his reason for vetoing the measure.
“I agree that protecting the well-being, dignity, and freedom of minors is vital, but the severe bar this bill creates is not necessary to address the concerns voiced by the bill’s proponents and does not comport with the sensibilities and, in some cases, the religious customs, of the people of this State,” Christie said in his veto message.
In essence, the bill would prohibit any person under the age of 18 from getting married, regardless of parental consent, which is a key component of the current laws.
Since the bill is without exceptions and closes loopholes that are in place right now, Christie referred to the changes as a “severe bar,” as the current law allows minors to marry at the age of 16 and 17, and they can even be married at 15 or younger with the consent of a judge.
Christie offered a conditional veto, which means he recommended provisions and sent it back to the legislature for amendments to be made instead.
His recommendations include allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to marry with the consent of a judge and barring anyone under 16 to marry. The governor argued that 16-year-olds in the state can currently obtain an abortion and consent to sex.
The governor didn’t explain which religions he was talking about, but human rights advocates are worried that Christie’s small provisions won’t actually make a difference for victims of child marriage since parents are the ones often pushing for it.
As Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at last, a nonprofit that helps girls and women escape forced marriages, pointed out, girls that are being forced to marry have few options once they face the judge.
They will either lie to the judge they face, parents will pay the judge to vote in favor of the marriage, or girls that are honest about not wanting to wed will “face really serious repercussions” from her parents.
Though proponents of the bill are upset about the veto, they’re confident that they can develop a compromise that will be approved by the governor, either before Christie leaves office or with his successor next year.