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When Republican state Rep. Jesse Topper of Bedford County and Democratic counterpart Warren Perry of Bucks County recently offered up a bill that would create a minimum age for marrying in Pennsylvania, the first question might understandably be: “Don’t we already have one?”

Kind of, but it falls far short of protecting all minors. Girls as young as 15 can obtain a marriage license in Pennsylvania with parental consent.

As a result, U.S. Census figures indicate, the state was home to more than 2,300 young girls — between the ages of 15 and 17 — who were married as of 2014. 

Nationwide, the problem is even more unsettling. It is estimated as many as a quarter of a million girls under age 18, some as young as 12, were forced into marriage from 2000 to 2010.

That’s astonishing, troubling and very simply wrong. And it must be changed — immediately, when it comes to Pennsylvania.

Topper and Perry’s bill, and similar legislation pending in the state Senate, would make 18 the minimum age for obtaining a marriage license in Pennsylvania. This legislation needs to be expedited to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk for his prompt signature.

In a perfect world, such laws might not necessary. But we live in a very imperfect world, and such laws are badly needed in Pennsylvania, argues Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained At Last, a national organization dedicated to outlawing child marriage in the United States.

“Child marriage remains a real problem here in Pennsylvania because the laws are so weak here,” Reiss told the Patriot-News this month. “A 2-year-old technically could marry. A middle school child is allowed to marry here. (This) is a really strong bill that would eliminate what the U.S. State Department calls a human rights abuse.”

Abuse is right. These young girls aren’t usually marrying high school classmates. The men are older — often much older — and, in many cases, turn out to be abusive. Consider this: Were it not for the loophole of a marriage certificate, the husbands in many of the relationships could be charged with statutory rape. That alone argues for the necessity of the legislation.

No, the odd and indefensible practices of radical religious factions do not merit an exclusion.

No, there are no exceptions in cases where a young girl displays advanced understanding or maturity beyond her years. (Those arguments, by comparison, wouldn’t allow a 17-year-old to get around voting laws.)

In other words, there’s really nothing to debate. 

Unchained At Last is planning a public protest, known as a Chain-In, on June 26 in the Pennsylvania Capitol building’s main rotunda in Harrisburg. State leaders should use this date as their deadline. 

Instead of words of support for the protesters, lawmakers should instead greet them with signed legislation codifying into law what every right-thinking Pennsylvanian knows to be the right thing to do: Protect young teenagers from being coerced into wedlock.

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