West Virginia Republicans Will Not Be Denied Their Child Brides
Republicans on the West Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee celebrated International Women's Day on Wednesday by voting against a law that would have banned child marriage in the state.
The law, which remains unchanged, allows for children 16 and older to get married with their parents' permission and for children of literally any age to get married with the permission of a judge, regardless of the age of the spouse. This means that an adult man is free to marry the elementary school student of his dreams so long as he can find a judge willing to go along with him.
The bill, introduced by Democratic Del. Kayla Young, would have established 18 as the age of consent and banned all marriages involving anyone younger than that regardless of parental or judicial permission. As judges have married off 11-year-olds to adult men before (and as judges have been Roy Moore before) strict laws on this are extremely important.
In 2014, the most recent year for which there is data, West Virginia had the highest rate of child marriage in the nation — a point weirdly made by Republicans defending the law as simply part of their way of life. Seven out of every 1000 people between 15 and 17 years old in West Virginia are married.
Kanawha County Republican Sen. Mike Stuart, who voted against the bill, said that his vote “wasn’t a vote against women." That's entirely true. No one, except perhaps those who oppose same-sex marriages, has expressed any problem with women getting married. The issue is with children getting married. The issue is with adults who would otherwise be charged with rape being allowed to get away with that because they put a ring on their victim's finger.
Stuart also shared that his own mother was married off at 16 and then “six months later, I came along. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.” Not so sure how lucky his mother was, though.
"West Virginia is a socially conservative and traditional state, in my observation," Republican Del. Jim Butler, who voted against the bill when it was voted on in the House, told Newsweek. "Many middle age and elderly people that I know were married when younger than 18 and are still married many years later."
Well, Jim Butler ... there was a time when women, especially women who got married that young, did not have much choice but to stay with their husbands. And surely giving an adult man the opportunity to raise his own wife/victim probably also makes it less likely that she will develop the independence necessary to leave in the future. Statistics show that girls who marry before the age of 19 are 50 percent more likely to drop out of high school, four times less likely to go to college and 31 percent more likely to live in poverty as an adult.
It's important to be clear that when we talk about child brides, we are for the most part talking about underage girls being married off to adult men. Eighty-six percent of underage children who get married are girls, while only 14 percent are boys.
"People simply grow up differently," Butler later said. "Some 16-year-olds, for example, are much more mature than others." Sure, that's true. Everyone is different — but we don't allow kids under 18 to vote, regardless of how mature they are, because that is a very difficult thing to gauge.
Curiously, despite this one vote, West Virginia Republicans have been on a real roll lately when it comes to pretending to protect the children. Earlier this month, the House of Delegates voted to ban gender-affirming care for trans children, while Republicans in the West Virginia state Senate introduced a bill making it a crime for parents to take their kids to a drag show.
So just to be very clear here — West Virginia Republicans have less of a problem with the parents of a 10-year-old marrying them off to an adult than with the parents taking that same 10-year-old to a drag show. They would rather a child be raped than for them to see someone in a sequin evening gown, who just might have a penis, lip syncing to "Don't Cry Out Loud."
This is how you know that all this nonsense does not have anything to do with protecting the children or protecting their way of life. That's why they have no problems with adult men marrying underage girls. That fits in just perfectly, as Jim Butler was more than happy to explain, with their "conservative and traditional" values.
Their issue with gender-affirming care is that they don't want there to be trans kids, because that doesn't fit in with those values, not because they are actually concerned that all the kids are going to go down to their local sex-change-o-mat and decide to have their genitals hacked off willy nilly. Their issue with drag queens is because they understand that people loving drag and drag queens was instrumental in making this country less homophobic and more accepting of LGBTQ rights. And they want a "conservative and traditional" society that is homophobic and that is not accepting of LGBTQ rights. They are not worried about protecting children, they are worried about protecting themselves.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse