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Ages of consent

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Here’s another stat of interest to anyone inquiring about the Gem State:

Idaho has the highest percentage in the nation of – wait for it – children (persons under the age of 18) who are married. More specifically, that’s “Number of children married as percent of average of 2000 and 2010 state population” based on an analysis of the last two U.S. Census numbers.

The raw number in the decade leading up to 2010 was 4,080; that’s children aged 13 (there were some at that age) to 17. The Idaho percentage was .29 percent, which is only half again as high as Wyoming and Utah but far higher than the reported numbers of other nearby states. (The full roster of numbers is available on the site unchainedatlast.org.) There’s no particular reason to think that the numbers have been falling in years since.

You could say the numbers are not enormous, but what we’re talking about here nonetheless is the lives of thousands of children and their ultimate freedom to shape lives for themselves. A Facebook comment from last week on this subject put it this way: “A child cannot consent. To have her parents do this for her is institutionalized statutory rape.”

Or try this, from Ada County Democrats Legislative Chair Chris Nash: “When it is legal for a 30-year-old to marry a 15-year-old that is not marriage because they are not equal partners. That is institutionalized child abuse. That is arranged rape.”

Does that sound hyperbolic? Let’s unpack the circumstances surrounding the law. The unchainedatlast.org site (which has well-worth-reading studies on this and related topics) noted that of the underaged marriages in the United States, “these were not ‘Romeo and Juliet’ situations. Some 77% of the children wed were minor girls married to adult men, often with significant age differences. Some children were wed at an age, or with a spousal age difference, that constitutes statutory rape under their state’s laws.”

Be it noted that this specifically is what the Idaho House, in its 28-39 vote a week ago on House Bill 98, chose in effect to endorse.

The bill as written was actually just a gentle scaleback of existing law. It didn’t go so far as to restrict marriage to people age 18 and older – that being the age, remember, when people are first allowed legally to vote, consume tobacco, join the military or (with the exception of the marriage contract) sign a binding contract. Three years more than that are required before a person is considered mature enough, under Idaho law, to sip a beer.

Or maybe the decisions made by those 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 year olds simply aren’t relevant as far as the state of Idaho is concerned.

The bill, proposed by Boise Representative Melissa Wintrow, limited itself to putting a floor of 16 years of age on marriage, and tightening a little the marriage permissions needed for 16- and 17-year-olds. It was a change, but a gentle one. It might have been seen, in whatever quarters were concerned with defending this particular status quo, as a first step; and that may have been the case.

Wintrow’s comment on Facebook was that the bill “turned out to be too progressive for too many of my republican colleagues. Arguments against: parental rights and a disagreement with aligning marriage laws with the statutory rape laws. I’m at a loss …”

Or you might say, shocked – a shock to the conscience – but not surprised.
 

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