Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran said Thursday that he doesn't support a complete ban on child marriage and said the state shouldn't tell some high school sweethearts they shouldn't get married if a pregnancy is involved.
The Senate passed a bill that would ban the marriage of anyone younger than 18 with no exceptions. Corcoran said he's against that and defended exceptions in a similar House bill that lets 16- and 17-year-olds marry if there's a pregnancy and the partner isn't more than two years older. Minors would need parental consent and paternity would have to be confirmed.
"I don't think that the state should tell someone who just turned 18 but whose girlfriend is 17 but in same birth year that they can't get married. Especially when they have that situation," Corcoran said. "Now you are going to force them to be unmarried when the baby is born. That's not good governance."
The House bill is ready for a full chamber vote.
Florida doesn't allow anyone younger than 18 to independently consent to marriage. Children aged 16 and 17 can marry with the consent of both children's parents. But if a pregnancy is involved, there is no minimum age for marriage as long as a judge approves the marriage license.
Lawmakers have repeatedly cited the story of Sherry Johnson, a 58-year-old woman who is pushing for the child marriage ban. Johnson was raped when she was 9, gave birth at 10 and was forced to marry her rapist at 11.
Corcoran said the House bill would prevent similar forced marriages.
"The bill's whole purpose is to end the abuse of child marriage," he said. "With those commonsense reforms, we end child marriage. All of the horrific stories, every horrific story you've ever read — over, done, never happen again in the state of Florida."