Few people in the U.S. would publicly advocate the need for children as young as 12 to marry; yet, Governor Chris Christie not only believes religious freedom erases Western mores about child marriage, he codified that personal belief for New Jersey residents — by vetoing a bill which would have banned the practice, outright.
"I agree that protecting the well-being, dignity, and freedom of minors is vital," Christie opined, "but the severe bar this bill creates is not necessary to address the concerns voiced by the bill's proponents and does not comport with the sensibilities and, in some cases, the religious customs, of the people of this State."
Christie stunned lawmakers in his conditional refusal to sign into law A3091, which would have barred "persons under age 18 from marrying or entering into a civil union," according to its text.
According to Politico, Republican Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz — a legislator from Christie's own party — led sponsorship of the bill, which garnered virtually full support from the New Jersey Senate and Assembly, after hearing "compelling" anecdotal testimony from minors who had been forced into marriage under religious pretenses.
Nevertheless, Christie proffered religion as a central focus to rubber-stamping the continuation of legal child marriage in his state.
"Underage marriage is widespread in the United States, where about 170,000 children were wed between 2000 and 2010 in 38 of the 50 states where data was available, according to activists," Reuters reports.
"Although age 18 is the minimum for marriage in most of the nation, every state has legal loopholes allowing children to wed."
Indeed, definitive reasons may exist for minors to marry — opposition cited pregnancy or that 17-year-olds may enlist in the military with parental consent — but the law as it stands allows children under the age of 16 to wed with permission of a family court judge.
"An exclusion without exceptions would violate the cultures and traditions of some communities in New Jersey based on religious traditions," Christie explained.
While maturity cannot be dictated by age, detractors feel the potential for abuse, mental health concerns, and the inherent rights of minors overwhelmingly preclude the dictates of any religious doctrine — leaving the legality of underage marriage untouched while exceptions are debated seems unwise.