Age of Consent for Marriage

Published on May 7th, 2021

Memorandum of Support

Update: Passed in both Houses (6/2/21)

Re: S3086 Salazar / A3891 Ramos
In relation to the age of consent for marriage

The above-referenced legislation would increase the age of consent for marriage to 18 in the state of New York. Currently, minors of 17 years of age can legally marry with parental approval and judicial review. The New York State Catholic Conference supports this legislation.

When a minor enters into a marriage, it is often not of their own free will. At age 17 some minors are pressured to marry by their parents, and these forced marriages present trauma for the child. They can be put in dangerous situations with older partners involving coerced sexual relations and domestic violence. 

Minors who marry automatically become emancipated under the law, thus they lose their parents’ financial obligations to them. This can result in teenage poverty and homelessness, particularly since it is estimated that between 70 and 80% of marriages before age 18 end in divorce. It is young girls who are disproportionately affected by child marriage, as they are more likely to experience violence and less likely to remain in school. They therefore have worse economic and health outcomes than their unmarried peers.

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman in an enduring bond of love, for the mutual good of the spouses and the procreation and raising of children. Choosing when and whom to marry is, then, one of life’s most important decisions, and should not be made without adult capacity and emotional maturity. In so many other areas, our law recognizes this limited decision-making capacity of those under the age of 18: minors cannot vote, sign a legal contract, nor purchase alcohol or cigarettes.

We believe this legislation will provide an important step toward preventing the exploitation of adolescent girls through trafficking and coercion by older partners and family members, and strengthen marriage, which is the fundamental building block of a healthy society. We support its enactment into law.