November 1, 2019
This relic from a bygone era wants to prevent fertile teenage women from marrying older men.
Genevieve Meyer was just 15 years old when her 42-year-old neighbor put his hand on her thigh. She knew at the time that it didn’t make sense — he was more than twice her age and had already been married a couple of times. But the man was persistent, complimenting her long blond hair and pointing out that she looked much older than her age. “It just progressed into more inappropriate behavior,” she said.
It wasn’t long before her mother took notice. She called the cops and claimed that the older man was assaulting Meyer. The police arrested him. But he managed to make bail.
That’s when her mother, who Meyer said suffered from mental illness, had a sudden change of heart.
“My mom told me that this was my fault,” explained Meyer, who is now 39. She reasoned that Meyer had seduced the man. If they didn’t fix the situation, he could lose his job, his children, and spend the next decade of his life in jail. In California, where Meyer lived at the time, sex with anyone under the age of 18 constitutes statutory rape, regardless of whether or not the younger party has consented.
From that last sentence, it seems that they did have sex — which wasn’t clear by their opening statements about a hand on a thigh progressing “into more inappropriate behavior” and all.
One has to wonder though, what was an uninterested 15-year-old woman doing getting close and hanging out with her 42-year-old neighbor?
But her mother saw a solution: “She suggested we get married.” Doing so would render the relationship legal, allowing her neighbor to avoid statutory rape or child sexual abuse charges. While sex between an adult and a minor is a crime, marriage would make the same activity legal. It would also rid Meyer’s mother of the responsibilities of parenting.
“I didn’t really believe that I could get married at my age,” said Meyer. But within a month, on May 11, 1995, she wed her neighbor and charges against him were dropped.
So she married him and all was forgiven and forgotten.
What’s missing here is an explanation of why women under 18 shouldn’t marry. It’s kind of taken as a given.
“In 38 states, what would otherwise be considered felony rape becomes completely legal once a marriage license is handed out,” said Fraidy Reiss, the founder and executive director of Unchained at Last, an advocacy group dedicated to ending forced and child marriage in the United States. Sexual predators have an incentive to marry their victims in order to avoid prosecution and possible jail time. “We’re creating a mockery of statutory rape laws,” Reiss said.
The laws on both the legal age of marriage and statutory rape vary by state. In California, where Meyer lived, there was no minimum age required for marriage, meaning a child of any age could wed provided they had parental approval and sign-off from a judge. In Meyer’s case, the latter proved a challenge. “It took some effort to state-shop and figure out which states it could happen in,” said Meyer. Eventually she travelled with her soon-to-be husband to Mississippi, where the courts didn’t object.
That may be considered an attempt to explain why minors shouldn’t marry. But if “felony rape” is the reason, they should still explain why women under 18 shouldn’t have sex with older men. Why is felony rape a thing?
If we really push these questions, we may find answers that talk about a power imbalance due to age, positions of authority and stuff like that, but the case is never made clear because the intention isn’t to “protect” the minors but to further ruin marriage and the family.
Keep in mind that they never say that women shouldn’t have sex — on the contrary, women are encouraged to do so — but that they shouldn’t have sex with older men, who just so happen to be the ones most likely to be in a position to start a family with them.
Just as there’s a “fat is beautiful” push to “deconstruct” beauty and shame men into being attracted to deformed fat creatures, there’s this push to criminalize being attracted to fertility.
California has since amended its laws. In 2017, state Senator Jerry Hill, a Democrat, introduced legislation to ban marriage under 18 without exception.
But he was met by opposition, surprisingly, from groups traditionally associated with the left. The ACLU Northern California chapters, along with the Children’s Law Center of California, opposed the bill, claiming estimates of the scale of the problem were overblown. They cited Los Angeles County, where just 44 petitions for marriage by a minor we made in 2017 out of a population of 10 million. The groups argued that the new law would strip youth of their right to form their families and eliminate one of the only pathways to exit the foster care system through emancipation.
A version of the legislation eventually passed, but without any age restrictions. While there are stricter protocols for court oversight, a minor of any age can still marry in California.
There is a federal law stating that if one party is under age 16, and the parties are four years apart in age, then a sex offense has occurred. “It’s not called statutory rape, but that’s effectively what it is,” explained Jeanne Smoot, senior counsel for policy and strategy at the Tahirih Justice Center. But for the law to be enforced the crime must occur where federal criminal jurisdiction applies, such as in the case of the Jeffrey Epstein, who was arrested earlier this year on federal charges for sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York. (Epstein died behind bars in August.)
Today, Genevieve Meyer lives in Indiana, where she is working hard to change the laws in the state. Currently, Indiana allows minors as young as 15 to get married, provided they have parental approval and judicial consent. Meyer wants to see that practice come to an end.
“You know, most parents make good decisions when they come to their kids. They nurture them, they provide them with what they need, they enrich their lives, they want the best for them. But that’s not the case for all parents, so we need to have laws in place to protect children when their parents don’t — not loopholes for them to be exploited.”
In the past, parents choosing who their daughters would marry was the norm. Now this is portrayed as a bad thing while teenage women are encouraged to get drunk at random parties, to enter The College Experience, to join the workforce and to forget about starting a family and having babies until they’re old and infertile.
The official stance is that women shouldn’t be chaste, but they shouldn’t have sex with or marry older men (or any men at all, for that matter) because of some convoluted “power dynamic” that is somehow not an issue with men of the same age despite men being biologically stronger and smarter.