Child marriages would be banned in Florida under a bill passed Wednesday morning by the Florida Senate.
Under current law a person must be 18 to get married in Florida, although 16- and 17-year-olds can get married with the consent of the parents from both sides. But, supporters say the ban on child marriages is needed because too often in Florida minors are forced into marriages to cover up rape and sexual abuse.
That’s what happened to Sherry Johnson who was 10 when she was raped and 11 when she was forced to marry her 20 year old rapist. Johnson is now 57 and she has worked for years to change state law.
In the last five years in Florida nearly 2,000 minors were allowed to get married, including one person who was 13 years old at the time.
“It closes a loophole so that children can’t be used and abused by persons who under normal circumstances would go to jail,” said Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, who is the sponsor of the bill.
“Ms. Johnson has struggled her entire life because her parents forced her into a marriage as a child,” Benacquisto added.
Johnson told told lawmakers she “couldn’t get out” of the marriage with her abuser, with whom she had six children.
“So many minors are actually getting into situations they can’t get out of,” Johnson testified before a committee last week.
A similar measure is working it’s way through the Florida House. It has one more committee stop before reaching the floor of the House for a vote.