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Child marriage is still legal in Michigan as fight continues to change the law

'A lot of people don’t realize that these laws even still exist'
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Posted at 2:59 PM, Dec 14, 2022

(WXYZ) — The age minimum for getting married in Michigan may shock you. Technically it is age zero. There is no minimum under the law.

A group of women who say marrying while they were underage hurt their lives are working to change that. They say it is about health, wealth and even national security. They felt devastated when Michigan’s legislature refused to move a bill forward making sure only adults get married.

As the year ends, survivors of child marriage are speaking out — saying Michigan lawmakers failed them. They allowed a 125-year-old law that allows parents to come to court and get permission to marry off their young children to stay on the books.

"We’re giving get out of jail free cards to child rapists," that's the message child marriage survivor Fraidy Reese shared with the Senate Judicial Committee as it considered raising the age you can get married in Michigan to 18.

Reese founded the national organization Unchained At Last. She says more than 5,400 children — under 18 — have married in Michigan since 2000.

"The youngest person in the last 20 years to marry in this state was a 14-year-old child. Under our state laws, when that marriage was consummated, that was then statutory rape," said Courtney Kosnik.

Kosnik — who also testified in Lansing — sat down with 7 Action News to share what it was like to learn that the bill that would ban child marriage would not be taken up for a vote before the full State Senate this year.

"I sat in my office and cried for a few minutes," said Kosnik.

Kosnik got married at 17 years old. A minister her husband met at AA meetings officiated. She says people should know that a judge can sign off on a marriage for any age child in Michigan — and a parent can sign off on a marriage for a 16 or 17 year old.

Courtney says the whole process sends the message that what children want doesn’t really matter. After all, her mom and future husband at the time came to court and filed for a marriage license without her.

"My name is not on my own marriage license. It is my mom’s name. She gave permission and married me off," said Kosnik.

Her 28-year-old husband, she says, soon became abusive. After one beating — she went to a women’s shelter.

"If you are under 18, a women’s shelter will not take you in. They tell you you need to go to a juvenile detention center ... detention center? What did I do wrong?" said Kosnik.

She called lawyers to ask for help getting a divorce and was told she was too young to sign a retainer.

"And they were like, 'well, how old are you? We can’t talk to you' ... It was just one door after another to where I knew I had no way out. I was stuck," she said.

She soon became a mom in a controlling marriage. When she finally divorced, she said he stalked her until a felony stalking warrant was issued.

"He was a predator," said Kosnik.

Sasha Taylor says her family forced her to marry a man seven years older than her in Arizona after his family made financial promises.

"My mother was married when she was 15, my grandmother was married in a refugee camp when she was 8 years old, and here is my mother in an abusive situation. So for her, it's to get me out of that household, to get the children out of an abusive household," said Taylor.

Taylor says she was used as a child bride to help him immigrate — and that is happening to many girls in Michigan.

"I was used for a visa bride," said Taylor.

State Senator Michael MacDonald — a republican from Macomb County said he is not giving up.

"They say it's kind of the Wild West in Michigan; a lot of people don’t realize that these laws even still exist," said Sen. MacDonald.

He has bi-partisan support and hopes a new bill will move in 2023.

"Your entire childhood is taken away from you, and that is not how it should be," said Taylor.

Kosnik said, "I am frustrated. This isn’t partisan. Who are we protecting? Predators? People who prey on young children? Pedophiles?"