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Lawmaker: Law That OKs Child Marriage Well-Crafted

Florida Legislature
Florida House of Representatives
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A Florida lawmaker who opposes a bill to ban child marriage said Thursday that the current law allowing child rapists to marry girls they impregnate is well-crafted.

Republican Rep. George Moraitis voted against a bill that would ban child marriages with the exception of some 16- and 17-year-olds when a pregnancy is involved. He cited a legislative staff analysis showing that between 2012 and 2016 only one 13-year-old was allowed to marry and said he encourages pregnant "women" to get married.

"The current law is ... very good, in my opinion, a very carefully crafted balance," Moraitis says.

He said it's "very reasonable" to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to marry with parental consent, regardless of whether the girl is pregnant. And he noted that pregnant girls under 16 still need a judge's permission to get married.

"There's literally only a handful of cases that would fall under what I would say are potentially abusive," he says. "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."

The same staff analysis Moraitis cited says 33 children under 16 were allowed to marry during those five years. It also reported someone over the age of 90 marrying a 16- or 17-year-old girl, and a 14-year-old who married a 15-year-old. In some cases, girls were allowed to marry men twice their age.

The push to ban child marriages is largely inspired by the story of Sherry Johnson. Johnson, 58, was raped by a church deacon when she was 9, gave birth when she was 10 and forced to marry her rapist when she was 11. The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill that would ban the marriage of anyone under 18 under any circumstance.

But a House committee Thursday approved an exception to the complete child marriage ban that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to marry if there was a pregnancy, parents consented and neither party was more than two years older than the other.

Republican Rep. Julio Gonzalez also voted against the child marriage ban, even with the exceptions, saying, in part, that it wouldn't allow members of the military to bring their 16- and 17-year-old lovers with them when they receive out-of-state assignments.

"A lot of things happen when we turn 16," he says. "A lot of us are romantically involved and maybe have made a commitment to life to someone who is about to join the military. And that person is going to leave, and the only way that person can take you with him or her is if you're married; otherwise, the military won't fund it."

He said he knows from experience that separation can put a strain on a relationship.

"For us to, as a state, say that we're in a position to pass judgment on the quality and trueness of your love after you hit 16 years of age, to tell you that you will be forced to not accompany your spouse, wherever that spouse may go, I think is an overstepping of our legislative authority," Gonzalez says.