Pennsylvania is on the verge of banning all “child” (under 18) marriages, even with the consent of parent or guardian of the minor. Last year Delaware, bolstering its creds as a member of the Union rather than the erstwhile Confederacy, became the first state in the US to enact such a ban.
That reminded me that, when I first started practicing, New Castle, Delaware was the Gretna Green of the tri-state area. AS it had been long ago in Pennsylvania, 16 was the age of consent there. Does any Ratty reading remember that as a thing? A quick online search reveals that New Castle still has a large number of “elopement chapels”.
But what struck me, O Ratty, was that back then (vicinity of 1980), getting married was regarded as a marker of freedom and independence.
I had a pro bono client, 16 and pregnant, in foster care, whose sole identifiable parent was…..well, I never met the biological grandmom but I’m not sure she was even compos mentis….for whatever reason, her consent to my client’s eminently reasonable desire to marry the baby-daddy was not forthcoming. ( I told my young client I would do everything I could to get the emancipation decree in time for her baby could be born in wedlock; she replied, “Where’s that?” )
Here’s where we are now: if a girl ( underage or just..still youngish) gets pregnant, marriage is the last thing on her, or anybody’s mind. The rationale for the absolute ban on any marriages by a party under 18 is that such “infants” are being sold or trapped into bondage without the mental capacity to comprehend the awful sentence of imprisonment to which they’re agreeing.
Here in our mountain fastness, I’ve often found myself congratulating a young friend who has conceived, and asking so, when’s the wedding?
The answer is very often: oh, not until after the baby is born; we’ve got no money, no sense in getting married when you don’t have money! ( Really? Cue Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe…)
Okay then—-who does have the money? Y’know, for prenatal care, infant accoutrements? Usually, the young mom’s own birth family. That’s the new American family unit: an unwed mom, her child, and the unwed mom’s mother or possibly both parents. Casey Anthony is the new face of American motherhood.
Getting married used to be thought of by American kids as a bold gesture of independence, as emancipation from the chafing strictures of childhood. An act of defiance, of self-determination. The troth could set you free!
Elopement was daring, romantic, defiant: “…and even if we hafta run away/ I’m marryin’ that boy some day!”
Now—well, God only knows what the boys are thinking. They’re liable for child support whether they marry the mom or not, so maybe they just don’t care. And the girls, even if pregnant, don’t even seem to seriously contemplate such radical change as marriage in their lifestyle or status.
In the course of my pro bono representation of minors, I dealt with many kids whose main problem in life was their parents or guardians. They couldn’t do much on their own because of the legal incapacities of infancy, and their elders, spitefully or just stupidly, sought to obstruct any course of action to which they aspired. They just had to wait it out. They longed to establish their own households.
It’s just…a big change in attitudes toward marriage, the enormity of which dawned on me with sudden clarity today. Any thoughts, O Ratty?