BOSTON (WWLP) – The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a bill outlawing all child marriage in Massachusetts, an occurrence that lawmakers and advocates have been drawing attention to for years on Beacon Hill.
Current Massachusetts law allows anyone under the age of 18 to get married with parental consent, but lawmakers said that minors who marry cannot always access the legal and social services they would need to end a marriage.
Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler, the chief sponsor of the bill (S 2294) that the Senate passed Thursday, said that 1,231 underage youth were married in Massachusetts between the years 2000 and 2016.
“While, fortunately, the number of child marriages approved in Massachusetts has decreased in recent years, any child marriage that is approved in our commonwealth is, frankly, one too many,” the Worcester Democrat said. “The state can ensure that it does not endorse child marriages, which have consistently led to poor public health and socio-economic outcomes, by mandating that clerks and magistrates not approve a marriage license for a person under the age of 18.”
The bill mandates that the state not approve any marriage license for a person under the age of 18, regardless of whether a parent consents.
Last session, the Committee on the Judiciary sent bills related to child marriage to a study, eliminating them from legislative consideration. This year, the bill came out of the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. Chandler said Delaware and New Jersey last year passed similar laws and became the first states in the nation to completely ban child marriage.
Chandler told the Senate about Tammy Monteiro, a victim of a coerced child marriage who earlier this year told the Committee on Children and Families about how a judge allowed her at age 16 to marry a 25-year-old man.
“Tammy lent her voice to tell all of us how the current laws allowed her husband to gain legal custody of her, which led to years of abuse, with no avenues for escape,” Chandler said. “Let me be clear: Minors who marry an adult are victims of an inappropriate balance of power. But today, we have the power to stop child marriage in this state.”
Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz said she heard some people questioning whether child marriage actually happens in Massachusetts and if a prohibition on child marriage is really necessary. She said that even in cases when the involved parents agree that marriage for a minor is acceptable, “there is no upside that anyone has been able to articulate to me.”
Also Thursday, the Senate passed a bill (S 2295) intended to increase consumer transparency by improving insurance provider network directories and unanimously passed a bill (S 2296) that would allow optometrists to diagnose and treat glaucoma and other ocular abnormalities and prescribe necessary eye-related medications with proper training.
Sen. Michael Moore, the sponsor of the optometrist bill, said the other 49 states and Puerto Rico already allow optometrists to diagnose for glaucoma, but Massachusetts does not because of “outdated statutes.” He said the Senate had passed similar legislation five or six times previously.
“We included this change in two vehicles last session but I hope this standalone vehicle will reach the governor’s desk this year,” Moore said.