Johnson’s religious parents forced her to marry her 20-year-old rapist, who attended the same church as the family.
Marriage at a young age is relatively uncommon in Florida. Pew Research Center estimates that roughly four out of every 1,000 15- to 17-year-olds in Florida were married in 2014.
Brightbill said Thursday that the marriage legislation is needed because “child marriage has been shown to harm children’s physical, intellectual and emotional development.”
Lawmakers are pushing ahead despite lingering concerns voiced by some conservatives that taking away the option of marrying would make young women more likely to seek abortions when they become pregnant.
“Across the country, and specifically in the state of Florida, we’ve seen marriage license loopholes used and abused to cover up sexual abuse,” Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, said Thursday before her child marriage bill cleared its final Senate committee by unanimous vote, setting up the legislation for a vote on the Senate floor.
“So many minors are actually getting into situations they can’t get out of,” said Johnson, adding that her early marriage led to years of abusive relationships.
“Minors cannot enter into contracts because we recognize that youth and maturity mean that children aren’t prepared to sign legally binding contracts,” she added. “Uet under current marriage law children are permitted to enter into life-long marriage contracts.”
Florida law requires individuals to be 18 or older to marry, but there are exceptions when someone is pregnant or has parental consent.