Christie prevented the enactment of state Bill A3091. Sponsored by Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Morris County), the measure would have banned underage marriage without exceptions, a first for any US state. It was adopted by the Assembly in November 2016 and the New Jersey Senate in March.
“An exclusion without exceptions would violate the cultures and traditions of some communities in New Jersey based on religious traditions,” Christie said in his veto announcement on Thursday. “Judicial oversight would permit consideration of these factors in the 16- and 17-year-old timeframe.”
“All 50 states have established minimum ages for the issuance of marriage licenses, and all 50 states have statutory exceptions. New Jersey should not depart from that norm,” Christie added.
A blanket ban on underage marriage would also be inconsistent with state law allowing 16-year-olds to consent to sex or have an abortion without parental permission, Christie said. Given that law, “it is disingenuous to hold that a 16-year-old may never consent to marriage.”
Unchained At Last, an advocacy group serving women and girls in forced or arranged marriages, had expected Christie not to take action on the bill, executive director Fraidy Reiss told Thomson Reuters earlier this week.
The group had hoped the New Jersey bill would inspire similar measures across the US. Lawmakers in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas are currently considering bans on underage marriage.
State health records show more than 3,600 underage marriages in New Jersey between 1995 and 2015, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer. Of those, 166 marriages involved individuals 15 or younger, with the youngest being 13.