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By Steve Birr
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed legislation Thursday that would have banned all underage marriage in New Jersey.
The bill aimed to change current New Jersey law, which permits 16- and 17-year-olds to get married with parental consent and those under the age of 16 to marry with the approval of a family court judge. A republican sponsored the bill, but Christie stood in opposition, citing religious freedom and noting the age of consent in New Jersey is 16, reports Politico.
Unchained At Last, a non-profit group that seeks to help women in arranged and forced marriages, estimates there have been at least 3,600 marriages in New Jersey involving someone under the age of 18 between 1995 and 2015 and 166 of those involved children 15-years-old or younger.
“The shocking truth is that child marriage is legal right now in New Jersey, and it’s shocking that thousands of children have been married here recently, most of them minor girls married to adult men,” Fraidy Reiss, executive director of Unchained at Last, said in a committee hearing, according to Politico.
Christie instead wants all marriages involving children under the age of 16 banned, but suggests allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to marry with the oversight of a judge. Christie said given state laws governing sex and abortion, “it is disingenuous to hold that a 16-year-old may never consent to marriage.”
“An exclusion without exceptions would violate the cultures and traditions of some communities in New Jersey based on religious traditions,” Christie wrote in the veto message, according to Philly.com. “Judicial oversight would permit consideration of these factors in the 16 and 17-year-old timeframe.”