If you are a legislator in the South and want to prove your mettle during a legislative session, either address abortion or marriage. Both are great fodder for provoking headlines.
Last week, Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami, got titillating headlines by proposing a law that would ban youths under age 16 from getting married.
According to Stafford, Florida is in moral danger because a little more than 100 youths under age 16 exchanged vows in the state last year.
She contends that people under 16 are just too young to marry. Her bill does not provide for any religious exceptions or judicial oversight and parental consent.
Like any good politician on a mission to protect the moral landscape of South Beach and beyond, Stafford bolstered her case with two extreme examples:
-- a 10-year-old girl was raped and then got married at 11, with parental concent, to the 20-year-old man who raped her;
-- a 13-year-old male who impregnated a girl and got married to her under the present statute.
Stafford said that impregnation was not enough to justify allowing a kid to do the traditional "right thing" and get married.
"Here we have a 13-year-old still going through puberty, who now is a husband because, apparently, he made a baby. I just don't think that should be the policy of this state."
Think about that. It shouldn't be the policy of the state to encourage teenagers who are sexually promiscuous to allow them to make the admirable decision to make the commitments that come with (holy) matrimony.
In addition, apparently the present system of allowing parents and judges oversight apparently isn't good enough. She wants a ban because making immature kids get their parents and a court involved can't safeguard the state.
Marriage is defined in dictionary terms as the "legal union of a couple as spouses." To have a marriage, both parties must have a legal ability to marry one another, each party must give mutual consent, and if necessary, enter into a marriage contract if required by law.
Generally, the age to marry in Florida, as well as most states, is 18, but there a number of exceptions for those "under 18 years of age" that gives a judge discretion to allow "underage" teenagers to marry when they have parental consent, when there's a pregnancy or a child already, or if the female or both parents under 18 swear they are expecting a child.
Many marriage laws today evolved from both historical and religious precepts dating back to ancient civilizations. They recognized the beginning of puberty as a parameter to allow a legal union between two individuals. Young people getting married really hasn't been challenged for centuries to a great extent in both the U.S. and by religions and societies around the globe.
Stafford doesn't need to worry about an epidemic of teenage marriages. The reality is that young people have sex for the first time at about age 17 and most do not marry until their mid-20s. Fewer than 2 percent have sex by age 12.
In her quest for that headline, Stafford is misguided in not recognizing the history of teenage marriage, the individual rights afforded in the decision to get married and the long-standing efficacy of the parental and judicial controls built into that process.
True, we need to recognize that teenagers are hitting puberty younger and younger these days and that they are growing up in a much more sexualized society.
As a result, in 2014, children are engaging much more in adult activity than prior generations. Surely, that's been recognized with children being charged and incarcerated as adults (especially in Florida).
And if they can go to prison at age 13, why shouldn't teenagers be allowed to marry too -- with the proper judicial and parental oversight?
Unlike many statues concerning societal mores, the present laws that apply to teenage marriage work fine in our changing society.
Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly's Kommentary (stevenkurlander.com) and writes for Context Florida and The Huffington Post and can be found on Twitter @Kurlykomments. He lives in Monticello, N.Y. Column courtesy of Context Florida.