Councilmember Andrew Cohen joined Assemblywoman Amy Paulin last week in Albany to push for legislation that would ban teenagers less than 18 years of age from getting married.
Under current New York State law, the legal age of marriage is 18, but 16- and 17-year-olds can marry with “parental consent,” while teens ages 14 and 15 require judicial approval. Judges are not required to strike down marriage requests in which age differences between the parties would constitute statutory rape.
Paulin, of Westchester, first introduced legislation to ban marriage for people younger than 18 in 2015 but the bill was never brought to a vote.
In October 2016, Cohen also introduced a resolution in the City Council urging state lawmakers to pass the legislation.
On Feb. 14, Cohen traveled to Albany to meet with Paulin and attempt to rally support for the bill. There Cohen, Paulin and various activists said that 84 percent of the 3,853 minors who were married from 2000 to 2010 were young girls marrying adult men.
“An adult can sexually abuse a child and avoid statutory rape charges by marrying the child,” Paulin said at the press conference. “If an adult has sex with someone 16 or younger it is statutory rape but if the adult marries the child, then he can force her to have non-consensual sex whenever he wants. A child under 17 does not have the capacity to consent to sex under our penal law.”
Cohen’s resolution and Paulin’s bill in the Assembly are both still in the committee phases. At the press conference, Cohen likened the bill to restrictions on tattoos, alcohol, cigarettes and joining the armed forces.
“You can’t buy cigarettes or alcohol until you’re 21. You can’t get a tattoo until you are 18. You can’t enlist in the military until age 17. A child, as young as 14, should not be allowed to enter into a binding union on the say-so of a judge or her parents,” he said at the press conference. “Such a decision should wait until adulthood, when one is actually able to consent, which is why Assembly Member Paulin, the advocates, and I are working to end underage marriages.”
ATV law passes council
Another longtime policy concern of Cohen’s—the use of all-terrain vehicles within city limits—passed City Council last week.
The bill, first introduced in June 2015, increases the penalties on individuals caught driving ATVs in New York.
“New York City is only one terrain, an urban terrain, and it is no place for all-terrain vehicles. Rampant and reckless ATV driving is endangering the lives of New Yorkers,” Cohen said in a statement.
An earlier version of the bill included steeper fines for first-time offenders, and forfeiture of ATV on a second offense, but the council backed off of that idea. If signed, the bill will instead give ATV drivers a $500 fine on their first offense and $1000 for subsequent offenses.
In 2014, when Cohen and his co-sponsors first drafted the bill, there had been nine ATV related deaths in the Bronx, alone, including one in the 50th precinct.
“I’m alarmed by the harm such vehicles are causing in parks and other public spaces,” Cohen said. “This new law will put everyone on notice that we will not allow ATVs on our urban terrain, and give the NYPD another tool they can employ to stop illegal operators.”