New Sherwood

Bring Back Early Marriage

The FLDS situation has brought certain social issues back into the spotlight, the most prominent being early marriage. It is alleged that some (probably not many) FLDS females marry and conceive children when they are as young as 13. This – quite apart from the related issues of forced (arranged?) marriage and polygamy – has scandalized many people and is often cited as an abuse in itself. Therefore I think the question of early marriage deserves its own treatment, lest we Catholics get carried off by media presuppositions and the winds of popular opinion.

The demise of early marriage is a significant cause of the culture of immorality that surrounds us today. Most people are not particularly zealous for virtue, even in the best of times. Yet, they can be enticed by social norms to live generally moral lives – and one of the most important of these norms is a culture of early marriage. By “early” I do not mean 13, necessarily, but an age of 15-22 for most people. That is the age when hormones are naturally raging, and they are raging for the natural purpose of finding and keeping a spouse.

Postponing marriage beyond these years frustrates the design of the Creator for all but the most virtuous. Some are indeed called to celibate religious vocations, and others to celibacy in the world, and they are promised the necessary graces to live out these vocations. But such people are never the majority in any society. For the majority, the result of frustrating nature is the emergence of an open culture of fornication and vice, in which legions of marriageable but unmarried people end up accumulating a vast number of sexual partners before getting married.

The median age for marriage has now reached 25 for women, and 27 for men. The median age for first intercourse is still about 17. As a result, today’s women average six partners in a lifetime, while men average twenty (the male average is skewed by a small number of men reporting a very large number of partners). Obviously the trend toward late marriages, because it results in high rates of promiscuity, contributes indirectly to all of the ills associated with promiscuity. According to Michael P. Orsi:

“This tendency toward later marriage or no marriage has been the cause of a great deal of our social deterioration. The high incidence of pre-marital sex, a decrease in population, a higher incidence of infertility, a growth of the abortion industry, the financial burden placed on society due to out of wedlock births causing single-parent households, an increase in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the rise of homosexual activity, the widespread use of birth control, and a reported higher rate of loneliness and depression among the unmarried compared to married couples of the same age, are all indicative of the moral and spiritual conundrum that delayed marriage or no marriage has caused for society and for young people who want to live a Christian life but find the burden of containing their sexual urges unbearable during their artificially protracted adolescence.”

What about teen pregnancy? Isn’t that supposed to be a bad thing? Frederica Mathewes-Green writes:

“By the age of 18, a young woman’s body is well prepared for childbearing. Young men are equally qualified to do their part. Both may have better success at the enterprise than they would in later years, as some health risks — Cesarean section and Down Syndrome, for example — increase with passing years. (The dangers we associate with teen pregnancy, on the other hand, are behavioral, not biological: drug use, STD’s, prior abortion, extreme youth, and lack of prenatal care.) A woman’s fertility has already begun to decline at 25 — one reason the population-control crowd promotes delayed childbearing. Early childbearing also rewards a woman’s health with added protection against breast cancer.

Younger moms and dads are likely be more nimble at child-rearing as well, less apt to be exhausted by toddlers’ perpetual motion, less creaky-in-the-joints when it’s time to swing from the monkey bars. I suspect that younger parents will also be more patient with boys-will-be-boys rambunction, and less likely than weary 40-somethings to beg pediatricians for drugs to control supposed pathology. Humans are designed to reproduce in their teens, and they’re potentially very good at it. That’s why they want to so much.

Teen pregnancy is not the problem. Unwed teen pregnancy is the problem. It’s childbearing outside marriage that causes all the trouble. Restore an environment that supports younger marriage, and you won’t have to fight biology for a decade or more.”

What is the teaching and practice of the Catholic Church concerning early marriage? It is well known that the Blessed Virgin Mary was likely 13 or 14 years old when pregnant with Our Lord, and her husband Joseph many years her senior, in some traditions a widower of advanced age. Contrary what many have been led to believe, the Church has always sanctioned early marriage. From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

“The marriageable age is fourteen full years in males and twelve full years in females, under penalty of nullity (unless natural puberty supplies the want of years). Marriages void because of the absence of legal or natural puberty are held as sponsalia, inducing thereby impediment of “public decorum” (Cap. 14, tit. de despon. impub., X, 4, 2). Civil codes generally require a more advanced age than the canonical. Dispensations, however, as to the required ages are expressly granted by France, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Romania, and Russia. The marriageable age in France, Italy, Belgium, and Roumania is eighteen for men, and fifteen for women. (France requires also, under penalty of nullity, the consent of parents); Holland, Switzerland, Russia (Caucasian Provinces excepted), fifteen and thirteen; and Hungary fixes the age at eighteen and sixteen; Austria, fourteen for both parties; Denmark, twenty and sixteen; Germany, twenty-one (minors set free by parents at eighteen) and sixteen years respectively. Marriages contracted in Germany below the ages aforesaid are valid but illicit. In India natives marry under canonical age. So also in China, where there is a further deviation from canonical age, owing to the Chinese method of reckoning age by lunar rather than solar years (thirteen lunar months make a solar year). The canonical age holds in England, Spain, Portugal, Greece (Ionian Isles excepted, where it is sixteen and fourteen), and as regards Catholics even in Austria. While in some parts of the United States the canonical marriage age of fourteen and twelve still prevails, in others it has been enlarged by statutes. Such statutes, however, as a rule, do not make void marriages contracted by a male and femals of fourteen and twelve years respectively, unless the statute expressly forbids them under penalty of nullity. The English Common Law age of fourteen in males and twelve in females prevails in all the Canadian provinces, with the exception of Ontario and Manitoba. Ontario requires fourteen years, and Manitoba sixteen years, in both parties. Marriages contracted at more youthful ages than these are not irreparably null and void. They can be, and are, ratified by continued cohabitation after the prescribed age.”

As further evidence, the royal marriages of England – blessed by the Catholic Church – are instructive:

“King Stephen’s wife, Matilda, was only 14 in 1119 when she married …

[King ] John’s choice of second wife was Isabella of Angoulême, who was only about 13 when she married him in 1200, and about twenty years her husband’s junior …

Isabella’s eldest son, Henry III, succeeded to the throne at the age of nine, but waited almost 20 years before marrying. His bride, Eleanor of Provence, was only 13, and had never met her 28-year old husband before the day of the wedding …

As part of the settlement of a dispute of the territory of Gascony, Henry III and Alfonso X of Castile arranged the marriage of Henry’s son, Edward, to Alfonso’s sister, Eleanor. The marriage took place in 1254, when he was 15 and she 13 …

Eleanor died in 1290, and three years later, Edward set his heart on the young Blanche of France, who was famed for her beauty. In order to win her, the king even agreed to surrender Gascony to France, only to discover later that he had been duped and she was already betrothed to a German truce. King Philippe IV of France offered the English king Blanche’s younger sister, Marguerite, instead, but a furious Edward entered upon a five-year war against the French. When peace was signed, marriage to Marguerite was part of the agreement. Edward I was 60, Marguerite was 17 when they married …

The contrast with the marriage of the next king, Edward II, couldn’t have been greater. He, too, married a young French princess, Isabella, who was 12 at the time of their marriage …

Edward III also married a young bride, Philippa of Hainault, but, at 15, he was close to her age. Their marriage was a successful one, lasting over 40 years (until her death in 1369) and producing 14 children, the first (Edward the Black Prince) born when she was about 16 …

The Black Prince predeceased his father and on Edward’s death the throne passed to his grandson, Richard II. Richard was only 15 when he married his first wife, Anne of Bohemia, who was a few months older than him …

Margaret of Anjou was 16 when she married Henry VI who was about six years her senior …

Catherine Howard’s age when she married Henry VIII in 1540 is uncertain, but she is believed to have been between 15 and 20, while Henry was 50 …

The final two teenagers to marry English kings were Henrietta Maria of France, who married Charles I in 1625 at the age of 16, and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who married George III in 1761 when she was 17. Both marriages were loving ones …”

April 28, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

25 Comments »

  1. In the past, most people who were married, married young. And most of the marriages lasted for life. Very interesting post!

    Comment by elena maria vidal | April 28, 2008 | Reply

  2. I am all for marriage, but I think the main impediments that we have towards early marraige are these: 1) the extreme immaturity of modern teens and twentysomethings- people who were the same age, two hundred years ago had loving marraiges because they were mature enough and prepared for marriage by their parents. This is no longer the case. 2) the need for education. As the sphere of jobs that can be done with only a high school degree shrinks (thank you, George Bush, for shipping many of them overseas), an undergraduate or at least associate degree is now almost mandatory for employment. Raising a family is VERY difficult, especially if someone starts young and is open to life, without continued education. 3) A COMPLETE lack of cultural support for young marriage. It was hard enough being a 24 year-old bride- casual acquaintances were telling me that I was ‘too young.” I knew I was exactly the right age, and ignored the naysayers. Our culture is very hard on marriage in general. When teens marry, there is almost an uproar. This would not be case even fifty years ago.

    Comment by Benedicamus | April 28, 2008 | Reply

  3. Just thinking out loud here…I’m not in favor of marriage prior to 18, and I think ideally the man should have finished college or vocational school; generally that would be around age 22. As the head of the household, the ability to support his wife and children is his God-given responsibility. At 18, the woman has lost no time in her ability to bear children; in fact, she has as much as 30 child-bearing years ahead of her.

    I have reservations about the author’s comment regarding those “young people who want to live a Christian life but find the burden of containing their sexual urges unbearable during their artificially protracted adolescence.”

    Young people of good character can, and do, lead chaste lives. It is not an insurmountable task, especially if they have been reared a family with a strong religious and moral compass; in fact, it’s rather presumtious to assume that they are not completely capable of remaining chaste in the face of raging hormones.

    I’d be interested in what Mr. Orsi would consider the age range for “young people.” If he means into the late ’20s, then yes, that can be a problem. Between 18 and 22? Not at all. If young people of that age range cannot use the necessary self control needed to practice continence, it should not be blamed on their unmarried status, but rather on their own failure to obey the commandments. How sad to have the attitude “I have to marry, because otherwise I could not maintain self-control.” It’s almost a way of deflecting blame from themselves. These same young people could be parents nine-months later, responible for the moral and religious upbringing of another generation.

    And, I’ve been thinking here of well-grounded Catholic young people. If one widens the circle to all of society, earlier marriage will solve no societal ills, because that same society –with few or no moral or religious srictures — will simply justify divorce at that same early age, when the early marriage founders. So instead of unwed teen mothers, might we not just have divorced teen mothers?

    Comment by annabenedetti | April 28, 2008 | Reply

  4. annabenedetti,

    A minor nit – that’s actually Father Orsi. Whom I’ve met in Real Life™, not the internet — not that that’s particularly relevant.

    peace,

    Comment by Zach Frey | April 29, 2008 | Reply

  5. Benedicamus:

    Yes, part of the problem is that our culture and economy no longer support early marriage. This obviously affects the individual circumstances of would-be marrieds. Immaturity is a problem because protracted adolescence is enforced by mainstream culture. So we have a catch-22: people can’t marry young because they aren’t mature enough, but they aren’t mature enough because not enough people marry young. That said, those who can, should – even if those who can are presently small in number (though I suspect there are more than you think).

    Annabenedetti:

    Lots of issues here.

    I disagree with the idea that men should not marry until finished with college or vocational school. That’s a noble middle-class aspiration, of course, but most people are not college material. The percentage of American adults with bachelor’s degrees is now over 25% – which is about 15% too many, in my opinion. I also think high school should be finished by 16 or 17.

    As to men being able to support a wife and family before marrying, yes, that ought to be the goal in most cases, but with the demise of the family wage that isn’t realistic for many. You would be consigning thousands of mechanics, janitors, bus drivers, construction workers, farm workers, and clerks to lifetime bachelorhood. Getting back to normal is going to take some time, but it has to start somewhere.

    With respect to self-control, I am mostly NOT thinking of well-grounded Catholic young people. Such people have the best chance of withstanding the temptations of youth, finishing college, and marrying afterwards. No, I am thinking of the masses who take their cues from mainstream culture rather than church or family. I am arguing that mainstream culture ought to support early marriage again. Of those who marry young instead of having children out of wedlock, yes, some will divorce, but some will stay married and their children will be that much better off.

    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | April 29, 2008 | Reply

  6. We were talking about a totally different subject around the breakfast table this morning: Economy: regional almost self-sufficient economies with family farms/trades with multigenerational homesteads as the foundation of the society and the economy: and the similar questions arose re: the catch-22. Society/the economy is not set up that a family here or there can practice these principles and practically survive economically without tapping into the BIG economy, at least from time to time; yet if no one starts, nothing will ever change.

    The solution for anything like this is to 1. promote the discussion among friends and other outlets: books, blogs, etc. 2. Start living it to the best of your ability-scrutinizing all actions which may have a bearing on the success or failure of the debate. 3. PRAY (which should come first, but is the last resort for most of us sinners.)

    Regarding the current debate here, I agree that earlier marriage in general would be beneficial-with the right soceital support-which is gone in large part to the economic system in which we now live. What age as a threshold? I haven’t given it much thought.

    But I will put my two cents in on a man’s readiness. I am a great believer in education-but not necessarily for a job-that’s vocational training, and its what most colleges offer, not education. And I am finding that more men would be better served by NOT getting Big U degrees-it just shuffles them into the BIG economy which won’t support marriage and family at any age.

    Comment by Jim Curley | April 29, 2008 | Reply

  7. Zach – I didn’t know that, thanks.

    Jeff – I must respectfully ask you: How will these young men who haven’t finished college or vocational school support their young families?

    “With respect to self-control, I am mostly NOT thinking of well-grounded Catholic young people. Such people have the best chance of withstanding the temptations of youth, finishing college, and marrying afterwards. No, I am thinking of the masses who take their cues from mainstream culture rather than church or family.”

    So then college is acceptable for the well-grounded young Catholic, but not for the masses?
    :)

    Comment by annabenedetti | April 29, 2008 | Reply

  8. “In the past, most people who were married, married young. And most of the marriages lasted for life.”

    Especially when the wife died in childbirth at 15!

    Delaying marriage until adulthood also reduces the likelihood of obstetric fistula: http://www.endfistula.org/family_planning.htm

    “…Teenage pregnancies are risky, and the younger the girl, the higher the risk. Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their twenties. Many of those who survive days of obstructed labour end up with fistula. Thus, delaying a girl’s first pregnancy is a critical strategy for reducing fistula and maternal death as well as an important public health issue…”

    “As to men being able to support a wife and family before marrying, yes, that ought to be the goal in most cases, but with the demise of the family wage that isn’t realistic for many. You would be consigning thousands of mechanics, janitors, bus drivers, construction workers, farm workers, and clerks to lifetime bachelorhood.”

    Not at all! Many men want wives who are their peers and partners instead of their dependents. Of course, a janitor whose wife has a wage of her own still may not be able to support a family that gains anew baby every year, but then again a surgeon with a housewife may not be able to support that either.

    “Economy: regional almost self-sufficient economies with family farms/trades with multigenerational homesteads as the foundation of the society and the economy: and the similar questions arose re: the catch-22. Society/the economy is not set up that a family here or there can practice these principles and practically survive economically without tapping into the BIG economy,”

    Good point. For example, if none of those homesteads also produce vaccines then they’ll have to tap into another economy to get rubella vaccine.

    Comment by Joseph | April 29, 2008 | Reply

  9. Joseph,
    Many myths abound about childbirth, especially that it was all that common to die in chilbirth. By far the overwhelming majority of childbirth related deaths from the 18th through 20th centuries was infection, more often than not caused by doctors and midwives. Up until 1820 or so, any maternal death by disease within a year of childbirth was accounted as death due to childbearing. Considering that the average life expectancy barely exceeded the childbearing years, it’s not a surprise that so many deaths got chalked up to childbearing.

    Days of obstructed labor?”??? Show me where in the developed world anyone is allowed to labor for days. It simply doesn’t happen. I also doubt statistics such as 50,000 to 100,000. The wide range and very round numbers reveal a lack of data. Combined with an obvious agenda, it smells of created statistic, much like the 5,000-10,000 women supposedly killed by illegal abortions every year prior to Roe v Wade, or the reputed half-million homeless women in the US.

    As someone who married at 19, and as the father of 11, I think the fear of childbearing purposely inculcated in young women by our media and education bureaucracy is the largest part of problems in this area. Far too many adults are taking out their fears, their feminist frustrations, their sexual obsessions, and own regrets on young women. Girls are literally told that childbearing at 17 will destroy their lives, their relationships, and their health. It is and was utter nonsense. The female body is designed to bear children starting at about 15 and serious complications without an underlying health problem are almost unheard of.

    Comment by Danby | April 29, 2008 | Reply

  10. I have cared for childbearing women from the age of 14 to 48. General good health is more important than a specific age to having a good outcome. I think that Jeff has some good observations here, and I think that some commenters need to shut off their auto-pilot responses and really think about the issue. The general cultural disdain for marriage has affected and infected at least two generations. It has been the children who have suffered the most from this. I see over and over again women who have several children and have never married their children’s father(s). Couple who have lived together for years and have children and a house together and yet don’t see the desirability of marriage.
    I am probably a minority in that I encourage my pregnant young women patients to consider marriage (and if that isn’t feasible, maybe they need to dump the baby daddy and consider placing the baby for adoption or becoming a single mother).
    Another thing that I think should be addressed is the eternal engagement….early editions of pastoral manuals used to speak about “the dangers of overly long engagements”. Sometimes, you just have to dive in the deep end.
    I married my husband 11 months to the day after we met. I was 19, he was 24. We had 2 kids in our first two years of marriage. When we met, neither of us had a college degree (although he did have 4 years at St. Mary’s in Moraga). He put me through school while we raised 6 kids together. We have been married more than 34 years now.

    Comment by alicia | April 29, 2008 | Reply

  11. “Jeff – I must respectfully ask you: How will these young men who haven’t finished college or vocational school support their young families?”

    A very good and sensible question … to which I don’t have an answer. Some, indeed, will not be ready for work or marriage without some college education; others will have decent jobs despite their lack of higher education; others will have family help; still others will muddle through with varying degrees of hardship, trusting God to provide. Mainly I am arguing that the stigma against early marriage be removed, not that anyone rush into marriage without foresight or preparation.

    I had three years of vocational training in high school, as a welder, and was able to find work very easily. In retrospect maybe I should have kept on that path instead of getting a degree and going “white collar”. My wife has always worked throughout our 16 years of marriage, usually part-time, and our children have never been in public school or daycare. While that isn’t the ideal situation, sometimes it works out.

    Now here’s an interesting factoid. Single women earn more than single men: that has been the case for decades now. There is something about marriage that motivates men to earn more – and their employers to pay more. For men, delaying marriage has a negative effect on earnings and earning potential. I married at 25, and I can tell you that until then I never took a job very seriously.

    For most men in the world, I contend that it is better to be married and struggling financially than single and struggling with chastity. Much more personal and social damage is done by the latter group.

    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | April 30, 2008 | Reply

  12. [...] the whole FLDS fiasco, which continues to unfold, Jeff Culbreath takes a look at how delayed marriages impact society for the [...]

    Pingback by Jeff Culbreath Talks About Early Marriage | Steve Skojec | April 30, 2008 | Reply

  13. For the most part, I do understand and agree with what you’re saying. It is a crushing societal pressure on young people to be successful – in the worldly definition – which defines many, if not most career paths. There are ways around that for those determined to find them, and I think your homestead is a good example. Unfortunately in our increasingly urban, technological, utilitarian, dare I even say nihilistic American lifestyle, it is a unique exception. God bless you in your endeavors!

    Comment by annabenedetti | April 30, 2008 | Reply

  14. I don’t think the average age of first marriage has been as low as some here suggest. Somewhere Sandra Miesel has criticized Mrs. Matthewes-Green on that very point.

    What has changed is the vastly different circumstances under which fraternization between boys and girls now takes place. We segregate by age now, rather than by sex.

    Also, the automobile has given kids far more ability to escape prying eyes, and the collapse of marriage has taken away effective parental supervision from many who desperately need it. I think these factors are independent of changes in first marriage age.

    Comment by Kevin Jones | April 30, 2008 | Reply

  15. Kevin: I’d like to hear Sandra Miesel’s argument. I don’t think anyone can dispute that people today, in the West, are marrying later – much later – if they marry at all. If you don’t believe the stats there is anecdotal evidence in every family. How old were your own grandparents? Great-grandparents? Excellent point, though, about age segregation replacing sex segregation. Yet another bone-headed idea that contributes to all kinds of social problems.

    Annabenedetti: I dearly wish this homestead were an example of an alternative career path, but so far there hasn’t been much economic advantage. Just a better life for the family and, often enough, better food to eat. Maybe someday it will “pay” in financial terms. Thank you, as always, for your kind words and good wishes. And for alerting me to the very timely articles at Bettnet.

    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | May 1, 2008 | Reply

  16. My big concern with early marriage (and FWIW, I was married at 22) is immaturity on the part of spouses. I’ve run into too many problems where young marriages fail when they run into rocky shoals, usually with one of the spouses saying “I’m too young for all this responsibility stuff”. Without a culture supportive of marriage, the immaturity of protracted childhood will sink many a young marriage that might otherwise have succeeded.

    Comment by Laura | May 1, 2008 | Reply

  17. [i]… Without a culture supportive of marriage, the immaturity of protracted childhood will sink many a young marriage that might otherwise have succeeded.[/i]

    Let me extend Laura’s remarks. The essential reason we do not have a culture supportive of marriage isn’t necessarily because of the loss of a worthwhile social moral compass. It is, I think, rather because we don’t have a culture supportive of [i]maturity[/i] itself. There is no doubt that in every century prior to the 20th, “immaturity” was seen as an evil in the correct sense, i.e, the lack of a good proper to a being. It is with the “boomer” generation that what had previously been a life-stage, adolescence, became an ideal in and of itself … and we need only look around us to see that with them, [i]it still is[/i] — and because of that, this attitude has become the new norm of general culture, and the generations begotten by them have absorbed it as normal.

    There is no way a properly Catholic concept of marriage can flourish under such conditions.

    Comment by Somerset '76 | May 2, 2008 | Reply

  18. The best article I have ever seen on the subject and I have made the same points for years. One point you missed, but your second commentator touched on, is education.

    We now need much more education than we used to in order to be economically successful. I think this is the main reasons for our current immoral cultural taboo against marrying at a young age range, the age range we naturally begin sexual intercourse.

    I don’t have a solution for it, however, it’s a crying shame society isn’t more supportive of young people’s loving relationships, including bearing of children, and pursuing necessary education within marriage. Sexual relationships? Widely supported and encouraged by great swaths society and peer pressure if not always legally. Marriage? All but condemned.

    My mind reels and heart sinks.

    Comment by Christoph | May 2, 2008 | Reply

  19. Hey, Christoph — one solution might be to quit wasting so much time in school! I am so glad I’m going to homeschool my kids because they’ll be allowed to have a life instead of wasting so much time on stupid make-work. At the same time, they’ll probably be progressing much more rapidly through more advanced material. As DHM just commented over at the Common Room, the Amish have formal education only up to the eighth grade, but at that point their materials are things most American high school students wouldn’t dream of being able to tackle.

    As a computer programmer and engineer, I’m sure there’s a lot more to learn today than there was in the past and that more education is necessary for most to be able to “succeed.” But I think the main reason education takes longer is that our compulsory system is simply wasting more and more time!

    Unfortunately when the state finds private groups that are doing things differently and educating their children differently, its first impulse is to snuff them out, as it is doing with FLDS and as it once tried to do with the Amish (by making them submit to compulsory “education” laws). We can’t have any parallel societies. In other words: the government wants to use guns and tanks to enforce a monopoly on culture and society; don’t you dare try to start a competing culture that does things differently.

    And that’s what this is all about. Monopolies don’t like competition, because competition produces better methods.

    Comment by jdavidb | May 2, 2008 | Reply

  20. I’m all for early marriage, but since the medieval period the average marriage age has not changed all that much. For a long time people took royal/aristocratic young marriages and Shakespear’s 14-yr old Juliet as the norm. Then someone got the bright idea to look at parish records, take the marrige date, subtract the baptism date, and discovered that typical marriages occured in their twenties. Here is a discussion: http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2001/2276.html

    Comment by Scott W. | May 2, 2008 | Reply

  21. Scott W., I don’t believe everyone should get married at a young age. I, as one example, didn’t even have a girlfriend until just before I turned 19 and when I had my first blatant sexual opportunity with someone quite nice, actually, at 16, I all but ran away. I so wasn’t ready despite my body being all for it.

    However, that’s just me. Other people are very different, and I believe that’s a normal time to start these types of relationships. If 20-40% of people begin sex around that time, then does it make sense to criminalize the long term relationship aspect of it?

    If anything, I think age of consent should be equal to or higher than the age of marriage, and there should be an exception allowing sex for younger people who are married. In a lot of jurisdictions, it’s the other way around. You can have sex with or without your parent’s permission youngish, but can’t get married for a year or two after that.

    That has always seemed backwards to me.

    Comment by Christoph | May 2, 2008 | Reply

  22. Having been married for 27+ yrs., since the age of 17, (my husband was 19), I can safely say I have experience here- so anecdotally speaking….

    As for pregnancies- the babies and pregnancies I had when I was younger, were much easier that the ones I have had when over 40.

    On a professional level, EVERY woman who I have taken care of, who has had the experience of being pregnant at both a young age and an older age, will tell you hands down that the earlier ones were easier…

    On a professional level as well, I would personally rather take care of a 13-20 y/o pregnant girl, than a woman having her first baby in her 40′s or beyond…

    I also have to agree that as the family growns, the responsibility grows, the parents grow, and the creativity needed to sustain or make an income also grows. With God, all things are possible and He gives us the Graces to do what we need and the ability to withstand the trials He may send us. To be quite honest, I don’t know how folks do it without God, and I think that is the problem at hand in todays society. Age, hormones, and money aside, God has been left out.

    I think the biggest problem with the FLDS case is that it is just the tip of the iceburg. It isn’t about age, or abuse. It is about a group of people who *may* or *may not* be doing some things other folks don’t approve of. They have a faith- they have have an institution they have created in order to have and raise their children in the way they think best.

    Folks- that is a lot of us. We have children, we have faith, we have an institution to raise them within and educate them within. Some us folks *may* or *may not* be doing some things that other folks don’t approve of. (heck, being married is #1, marriage to only one person in your lifetime is #2, having children is #3, having more than 1,2, or 3 children is #4. ??homeschooling if you are a brave soul is #5…)….

    Do YOU think that the state or any other government should have the right to take ALL of our children from us because someone MAY being doing something they shouldn’t be??

    In any other type of case, there has to be proof of guilt *before* prosecution and punishment. In the FLDS case in Tx, that was and is not true. In one of the latest news tidbits, a “supposed” abused girl gave birth to a baby- and they took the baby from her! She was an alleged victim (she denies it), and they chose to victimize her for her reward- and her baby as well.

    Sorry to get carried away, but I really think folks need to see beyond what the media and authorities are saying and look to how this type of action smacks of persecution because of beliefs… and we are not far behind. Remember what happened in the years leading up to the regime of Hitler???

    Comment by Been down that road | May 4, 2008 | Reply

  23. What a fine discussion on a difficult topic. Everyone has raised solid questions ( or responded solidly to same).

    On the subject of the FLDS, now that the court has ruled in their favor, I wonder if there are not still some important questions to be answered. First, polygamy is illegal in this country. Are we to overlook communities that constitute themselves as religious communities and thus immune to law? If so, what shall we say when Islamic communities apply Sharia law to their members and claim a religious exception?

    While it is of a different species, polygamy is also destructive to marriage in the manner that same-sex unions are. Both undermine truth about the relationship between a husband and wife. Many of those who leave (escape?) FLDS communities report sexual activity between men and unmarried teen girls i the compounds. The question is not the activity– per se– of an underaged, unmarried girl whose
    same-aged counterpart at the local mall is also having sex with a boy friend. The question is of the FLDS girl having no option–she is essentially a prisoner, and essentially has known no other way of life. Are we to ignore this abuse of young girls?

    AND the boys of the FLDS? There are credible reports of adolescent boys being put out of their communities because older men would not tolerate the competition.

    And the women? It is interesting that in the US Court’s original decision to outlaw polygamy in the 1800s reasoned that the women were in situations where they were effectively enslaved. They had no options, no advocates. Polygamy is not truly voluntary for the women, but is, rather,an acceptance of what one believes to be the only choice–that is when the men have the keys to your eternal destiny.

    On early marriages, I am in agreement with the sentiment and ideas above. We married at 18 and 20, finished college together, had our children early, and have enjoyed being young grandparents. The idea of a return to a family farm or homestead is a GREAT plan. I wonder if it might not be more workable than we think at first look. Via computer and fax one can do much at home, perhaps traveling into an urban location once a week or so? Working and living in such a way as to support local tradesmen and the local economy is an idea that excites me.

    A terrific slim book on the topic is Wendell Berry’s ANOTHER TURN OF THE CRANK.

    Comment by properlyscared | May 23, 2008 | Reply

  24. Very interesting discussion, and timely in our house, as my 23 year old son will be marrying his 20 year old girlfriend in January. We’ve had plenty of the “They’re too young” talk from friends and acquaintances, and it still goes on.

    My son did wait until he had finished his undergraduate degree–at our request. Where we are, and with his interests, it seemed prudent to us for him to have his bachelor’s degree before starting a family.

    But they are most definitely out of the “mainstream”–as they hope to make me a grandmother before the end of next year. And both my husband and I are thrilled about that.

    One thing that hasn’t been touched on as much as it should, is the responsibility of the rest of the family in nurturing the young couple, and of stepping in to help in a big way–financially, practically and emotionally.

    We know that these kiddos are probably not going to be as independent right off the bat as Craig and I were when we married at 23 (me–with a master’s degree) and 27 (him–with military experience and an undergraduate degree). And that’s OK by us. Hyper-independence is what gets people into a fix, I think. We expect to get to step in and be helping hands in all sorts of ways for them. What we hope will come of that is a big happy extended family–something that is nonexistent for a whole bunch of people.

    My husband and I made many decisions down the road (30 years worth of road now!) that kept us close to family rather than chasing the material dream. It’s made things harder fiscally, but I wouldn’t trade the time I had with my parents, or the time my son had with his grandparents for any amount of Lexuses (Lexi?) in the driveway.

    I hope that our relationship with our grandchildren is the same.

    Comment by MamaT | August 13, 2009 | Reply


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