Sherry Johnson has an unnervingly awful story that somehow fell within the bounds of the law. Raped and impregnated at age 10 in 1971, she was forced to marry her rapist by a Florida judge at age 11 and had five more children with him before escaping into a series of abusive relationships later in life.
She understandably would like to see her abuse not be repeated. So she has been the public face pushing for a Florida bill that goes well beyond fixing the law that created her tragedy by banning marriage for Floridians under the age of 18. No exceptions.
Johnson is far from alone in this effort — not surprisingly given she does not have the political or financial wherewithal to get the Florida Legislature to move on a bill. But the progressive, global groups from several western nations and the United States, in the background pushing this bill and more like it in other states, do have that power.
Unfortunately, it’s not clear Florida Republicans know who was behind the legislation. But legislatures around the nation need to be.
Florida law currently allows minors who are 16 and 17 to marry only with their parents’ consent. But the law also allows county judges to approve marriages with younger minors if there is a pregnancy involved, and it was this last provision the judge incomprehensibly used 46 years ago to approve the marriage of Sherry Johnson when she was 11.
Fixing this law is eminently sensible and simple. Banning what happened to Johnson, even if it was very, very rare, is the right thing to do. And the obvious fix is to eliminate the marriage exemption for those under 16, while allowing flexibility for 16 and 17 years olds. This is an easy, quick pinpoint fix.
So then why did the Florida Legislature take a sledgehammer to the law and, in the unanimously passed Senate version, create a total ban on marriage for anyone under 18 and remove any personal freedoms in the matter?
Perhaps because two politically progressive groups supported by and connected to progressive groups globally pushed in the background for the far more restrictive law. They have pushed legislatures in Massachusetts and elsewhere to pass this legislation. Apparently, few lawmakers in the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature were aware of these influences in the legislation.
In one of the more poignant moments of the 2018 Florida session, two lone conservative representatives — George Moraitis and Julio Gonzalez — took on this over-reactive change on the merits of violating conservative tenants by creating too much government intrusion into private lives at the cost of personal liberty.
Don Quixote had as much success. The House bill passed 108-2 and the Senate bill passed 37-0. At that point, perhaps no one really wanted to be painted as supporting “child brides,” even though that is not what is happening. Politics is politics.
This is not a matter of whether marriage at 16 or 17 is a good idea, but whether it should be an individual and familial choice or it should be government dictate.
The two bills that passed differ slightly. A consensus between the two chambers has not yet been reached. The Senate has a strict prohibition for marriages under the age of 18, while the House bill allows a pregnant sixteen or seventeen year old to still be married, but only if the father is within two years of the mother’s age. That’s a lot of government micromanaging.
In floor debate, ironically on Valentine’s Day, Gonzalez pointed out that current Florida law already bans children under the age of 16 from being married except in the case of pregnancy. So the problem of ultra young children marrying in Florida would be solved simply by eliminating the marriage exception.
The bill’s sponsor said there were other goals of the bill, such as preventing minors from being coerced into marriage and improving high divorce rates. Both of those would be laudable goals, but the bill does not address either, which the sponsors admitted during floor debate.
The real problem with the bill, and the almost unanimous support of Republicans, is that at its core, it is not conservative by expanding the reach of government into private lives. Here’s the problem with the well-intentioned but overreaching bill.
First, it represents an attack on personal liberties. As Gonzalez said in debate, the decision over whether a 16- or 17-year-old should marry belongs in a family’s living room, not distant state government. Johnson’s story is horrific. Is this an ongoing problem that could not have been fixed simply by eliminating the pregnancy exemption for those under 16?
Second, Moraitis rightly raised the issue of the bill’s excessive meddling into the private circumstances by which marriage would be appropriate. He said it gives government far too much role in individual and family decision-making.
Third, the bill is not crafted to solve the problems it raises. Remember, if the problem is the pregnancy exception allowing for children to be married, then this response is irresponsibly broad and intrudes on a myriad of privacy and personal liberty issues. And if the motivation is a higher divorce rate or the prevention of coercive practices, then the bill fails as it does none of these.
Fourth, Gonzalez spoke from personal experience when he said the bill creates needless hardships. For instance, there are legitimate times, particularly with military members being assigned to distant regions, when one member of a couple who is 18 has to leave the area or the country and cannot take his as-yet unmarried partner who is 17 with him or her.
“In such situations, the forced separation can be brutal for the military member,” Gonzalez said during the debate. He has personal experience with militarily forced separations from his then fiancé and now wife when he was a military doctor. “The fact is that there are numerous circumstances where it would be reasonable for 17-year-olds to marry, and this bill would unnecessarily block them.”
Which begs the question, is there another purpose of the bill?
In the Right Talk America weekly radio program that Gonzalez co-hosts with Rod Thomson, Founder of The Revolutionary Act, Gonzalez suggests it is the result of a progressive liberal assault on marriage, of which most Florida Republicans are unaware:
“This is typical of the progressives’ game plan. You identify an emotion-laden issue. You sell an emotional argument to the public, and then you push a solution that goes much broader than the fix to the problem. We saw this with the passage of the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Amendments to the Constitution. You saw this with Obamacare. You’re seeing this with gun legislation. And now you’re seeing it on marriage.”
There is born out by some digging into who is pushing the legislation beyond Sherry Johnson. The Revolutionary Act as learned from sources inside the Legislature that two groups have been the prime motivators for this bill: Girls Not Brides and Unchained At Last.
Progressives behind the bills
Girls Not Brides, an organization chartered in England, gets considerable money from government organizations in several western, progressive nations, along with several large, private foundations. Here’s the list:
- Bridgeway Foundation,
- The Brooks Foundation
- Ford Foundation,
- Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,
- Global Affairs Canada (Government of Canada)
- Human Dignity Foundation,
- Ikea Foundation,
- The Kendeda Fund,
- Nationale Postcode Loterij (Netherlands),
- The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
- Nike Foundation,
- NoVo Foundation (connected to the Tides Foundation),
- Open Society Foundations,
- David & Lucile Packard Foundation,
- Sabanci Foundation,
- Skoll Foundation,
- Swedish Postcode Foundation.
The majority of these organizations are known to support and fund progressive causes, some of them being radical.
Unchained At Last also partners with Global Citizen, plus Human Rights Watch to push for ending child marriage — but can be quite deceptive about the scope of the problem — at least in the United States. It’s founder, Fraid Reiss, who has her own challenging story of an arranged marriage at age 19, wrote at Global Citizen:
“If I told you about a country where hundreds of thousands of children as young as 10 were getting married — mostly girls being wed to adult men — would you assume I were(sic) talking about a developing country on the other side of the world?
“Actually, I’m talking about the United States.”
That sounds unlikely. But she writes further and the obfuscation becomes clear:
“For a long time, no one knew the full extent of America’s child-marriage problem. I changed that last year, when I wrote an op-ed article published in the Washington Post that revealed the results of a groundbreaking study conducted by Unchained At Last, the nonprofit I founded to help women escape forced marriage in the US. I showed that in just the 38 states that track marriage ages (based on marriage license applications), more than 167,000 children as young as 10 were married between 2000 and 2010 alone.”
The problem is obvious. She does not break down how many are 10 — if any recently — and how many are 17. In the case of Sherry Johnson, she was married at 11 nearly 50 years ago. Has there been another one in Florida? It’s not reported. How many are around the nation at 10 or 11 or 13? Well, Reiss does not specify. That’s problematic and raises a red flag.
The reasonable assumption why no specifics are given beyond the careful crafting that includes the 10-year-old age is because the huge majority are 17 and some 16 and very small numbers to virtually none as they get younger.
In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey — the most extensive and high quality survey — only has numbers down to 15 years old, probably because incidents of younger marriages are too rare to create any statistical significance. Even Pew Research calls child marriage — which it puts at 15 to 17 years old — “rare.”
So why do backers of these laws — and it is more than Reiss, there seems to be consistent messaging on this, even on Wikipedia— insist on using the age of 10, lumping it in with “hundreds of thousands of children” being married? Why do neither she or her progressive partners break down the numbers by age? Perhaps because the issue becomes so minor as to be considerably less compelling?
Florida Republicans wanted to do the right thing to protect girls such as Sherry Johnson from being forced into that terrible situation. But the law they passed went far beyond that and seems to be inspired and pushed by groups standing for the opposite of what Republicans stand for.
And that fits perfectly with progressive tactics. And it raises the question: What will be their next step?
Rod Thomson is an author, TV talking head and former journalist, and is Founder of The Revolutionary Act. Rod is co-host of Right Talk America With Julio and Rod on the Salem Radio Network.
Today’s news moves at a faster pace than ever, and a lot of sources are not trustworthy. Whatfinger.com is my go-to source for keeping up with all the latest events in real time from good sources.
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