About Time: US State of Florida Makes Under-17 Marriages Illegal

© AP Photo / AP Photo/Brendan FarringtonSherry Johnson
Sherry Johnson - Sputnik International
Last week, the Florida legislature passed a bill making it illegal for anyone under the age of 17 to be married in the state.

The Senate had originally passed a bill banning marriage under the age of 18, but the House wanted to establish exceptions for some 16 and 17-year-olds in the case of pregnancy. 

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The bill, now being sent to Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott, makes it illegal to marry anyone under the age of 17, regardless of their pregnancy status. In addition, the bill states that anyone marrying a 17-year-old cannot be more than two years older and requires parental consent.

"My heart is happy," said Sherry Johnson, who worked tirelessly on the measure, as the bill passed the house on Friday.

"My goal," stated Johnson, who was herself forcibly married to a man who raped her when she was 11, "was to protect our children and I feel like my mission has been accomplished. This is not about me. I survived."

The current law dictates that 16 and 17-year-olds can get married if both sets of parents consent. However, if pregnancy is a factor, there is no minimum age for marriage if there is the approval of a judge.

A legislative staff analysis revealed that 1,828 marriage licenses were issued in Florida to couples where at least one person was a minor between 2012-2016. There was one documented case in which a man over 90 married a girl who was under under 18.

Many supporters of the new observe that it will protect children from being forced to marry a man who raped her, even in the case of pregnancy.

Republican George Moraitis, however voted against the bill.

"There's literally only a handful of cases that would fall under what I would say are potentially abusive," said Moraitis recently, cited by CBS News.

"To focus on a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old or something like that when we're talking about the hundreds and hundreds of people that could get married. I'm particularly focused on the pregnancy aspect of it. I don't want the message to be that it's better to not get married." 

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Sherry Johnson, who just nine years old when she was sexually assaulted by a church deacon, gave birth at the age of 10. At the age of 11, she was married to her rapist. According to Johnson, her church coerced her mother to consent to the marriage, which was approved by a judge.

"I feel the whole system failed me," Johnson told CBS News last month. "It wasn't just one person. It wasn't just one source."

Johnson gave birth to five more children before ending the marriage.

"It would have changed my life by not allowing me to get married, to continue to have children, to continue to have my downfall," she said, referring to how the soon-to-be law could have saved her years of abuse.

"I would have been a single mother," she said, adding, " I think would have done well."

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