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Archive for Friday, May 5, 2006

Too young to marry

Despite arguments to the contrary by one of the state’s most controversial legislators, setting a minimum marriage age is a reasonable action for Kansas.

May 5, 2006

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Making a case for allowing children under the age of 15 to marry isn't easy, but Kansas Sen. Kay O'Connor, R-Olathe, apparently felt the need to try.

Prompted in part by the case of a 22-year-old Nebraska man who brought his pregnant 14-year-old girlfriend to Kansas so they could be legally married, state lawmakers introduced legislation this year to set a minimum age for marriage. That's something the state hadn't had before, although children younger than 18 had to obtain the consent of their parents and/or a judge to tie the knot.

The bill under consideration Wednesday on the floor of the Kansas Senate would prohibit anyone under the age of 15 from obtaining a marriage license. A 15-year-old can get married if a judge agrees it is in his or her best interests. Those ages 16 and 17 must get the permission of their parents or legal guardians, or if their parents are dead and there is no legal guardian, the permission of a judge.

Those restrictions seem more than reasonable to most Kansans, but O'Connor disagreed, citing country singer Loretta Lynn and the Virgin Mary as two successful women who married at young ages. O'Connor also claimed that if the parents of a pregnant 14-year-old girl want her to get married, that should be OK.

She also claimed that setting a minimum marriage age actually is "a pro-abortion bill" because it would pressure a young girl to get an abortion. Following that logic, however, having no minimum age for marriage might also be a "pro-pregnancy" bill because it could encourage young girls to become pregnant in an effort to pressure the father or her parents into setting a wedding date.

This is not the first time O'Connor has made interesting arguments about social issues. She drew considerable attention five years ago with comments that women wouldn't need the vote if men had done a better job of caring for them and leading the country. That statement is particularly notable given that O'Connor now has announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination for Kansas secretary of state, the state's top election official.

Everyone's entitled to an opinion, but some of O'Connor's statements are a little disconcerting given her position as a state senator and candidate for statewide office.

Fortunately, it seems that O'Connor is distinctly in the minority on the minimum marriage age. The measure passed the Senate on a 36-4 vote Wednesday and the House on Thursday without opposition. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius initially requested the legislation and is expected to sign the bill.

No offense to Loretta Lynn and certainly not to the Virgin Mary, but setting a minimum marriage age for Kansans - both boys and girls - seems like a reasonable and overdue action.

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