The following is a phone conversation between Rep Melissa Wintrow/(D-Boise) and high school student Gracie Messier about a child marriage bill presented by Gracie at the Girls State simulated legislature. Girls State is a nonpartisan program through American Legion Auxiliary; they do not have a stance on child marriage.
Rep. Wintrow: Gracie, I was so happy to hear that you would be using H98 as a model for your mock legislation at Girls State. It sounds like your bill mirrored mine, setting a floor for marriage at 16 and requiring child and parental consent and court approval while aligning legal marriage age with existing statutory rape laws. What inspired you to advocate against child marriage at Girls State?
Gracie: Well, Girls State holds a mock legislative session where students can write their own bill. I was in a play earlier this year and one of the scenes was about child marriage; I didn’t realize Idaho has the highest rate of child marriage in the U.S. and that there was no minimum age for kids to marry. I think it's shocking that in the 21st century, a 12-year-old could be forced into marrying someone much older. I think that girls need to have time to grow and develop. I thought child marriage only happened in other countries, but I didn't realize it happened in our own state.
W: In committee, one young woman testified about two of her friends who married at 17 and were later stuck in abusive marriages. I spoke with another woman from north Idaho, whose mother was instrumental in “giving her away” for marriage at 15. No one helped her and no one intervened. Idaho law says that someone can’t consent to sex under the age of 16, and statutory rape will be charged if someone 19 or over tries to have “sex” with a child 16 years of age or a 20 year old with someone 17. That’s to protect kids from pedophiles and abusers. My bill tried to close this loophole because we are allowing an adult much older to marry a minor and dodge the statutory rape law. That’s institutionalized rape.
G: Is that what motivated you to work on this law?
W: In part, yes. It doesn’t make sense that a 12-year-old girl can’t legally consent to sex with a much older man, unless he marries her... The other thing that motivated me was my mother. She taught me the importance of getting an education and being able to take care of myself without having to rely on anyone else: freedom to choose and pursue my dreams. She knew responsibility at a young age, when she had to help raise her 11 brothers and sisters after my abusive grandfather abandoned her family and then left them in poverty. My mother found herself in a bad situation in her own marriage, but she had no education, was caring for two kids and my grandmother, and had no financial means to care for us on her own. So, she stayed in a marriage she wanted to leave. Young girls need the opportunity to be able to make choices for their future when they are ready, instead of allowing anyone to rob them of that chance.
G: Exactly. And if you’re under 18, you are probably still in high school. Deciding to get married before you get an education changes our ability to earn a good living and access what we deserve. And my peers at Girls State agreed; my bill passed unanimously!
G: Thank you! Everyone was extremely supportive. I even got private notes from many girls telling me that they thought my bill was great.
W: What about your bill do you think resonated with your peers?
G: All the girls who came are heading into their senior year so we are technically all “old enough” to get married. If your bill had passed, then we would have been protected from a forced marriage but, it didn't. I think the girls listened to my arguments and asked themselves if they are ready for marriage, and if they are appropriately protected from coercion or abuse, and the answer was NO. I think it's terrifying that this could happen in Idaho.
W: I plan to bring this legislation back. And, I will keep fighting for this issue until the children of this state are protected from forced or coerced marriage.
G: I am hoping that presenting this bill at Girls State was the first step to raise awareness about this problem and I can be a voice for my generation and this issue.
W: Thank you, Gracie! Your voice matters. Let’s work together to protect your rights and those of generations to come.