Proposal would raise marriage age for children 13-year-old's wedding spurs move to alter law

October 02, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

No one under age 14 would be permitted to marry in Maryland and prosecutors would get an immediate chance to investigate when anyone 14 or 15 applied for a marriage license under legal changes proposed in the wake of publicity about a pregnant 13-year-old Anne Arundel County bride.

Robert P. Duckworth, clerk of the county Circuit Court and president of the Maryland Circuit Court Clerks Association, presented the first formal proposal yesterday on removing discrepancies between Maryland's marriage and sexual-assault laws.

His audience consisted of Anne Arundel County legislators, including Del. Phillip D. Bissett, an Edgewater Republican and member of the House Judiciary Committee who intends to review Duckworth's proposal before making recommendations to the committee staff.

Duckworth said he wants to prevent another case like that of Tina Lynn Akers, 13, who married Phillip Wayne Compton Jr., 29, in Annapolis in August. The couple and their son are living in Virginia, where they would have been forbidden to marry.

"There would never be another Compton situation in a courthouse in Maryland" under the proposed marriage-law revisions, Duckworth said. "It's the most egregious case I've ever seen. I don't want to be a part of it."

Current law allows a person of any age to marry if a doctor certifies that the bride is pregnant or has given birth and has the permission of a parent or guardian.

Under the criminal code, sex between a person younger than 14 and someone four or more years older is statutory rape. It is also a crime for someone four or more years older to have sex with a 14- or 15-year-old.

Duckworth said that though his proposal would let a 14-year-old get married, a couple would have to get an order from a circuit judge and wait 30 days after applying for a license. That would allow the state's attorney's office to determine whether a crime had been committed.

'Take a firm stand'

Duckworth's proposal doesn't go far enough, said Gloria Goldfaden, executive director of People Against Child Abuse, a nonprofit group interested in the debate triggered by the Compton case. She said no one under 16 should be allowed to marry.

"We have taken so long in our society to take a firm stand to say, 'No, men will not marry children,' " Goldfaden said. "For heaven's sakes, we could at least get these kids out of middle school and into high school before this happens."

Goldfaden said she is heartened by recent attention to the issue.

Virginia does not allow anyone younger than 15 to marry. A 15-year-old may marry there if a parent agrees and if a doctor certifies that the bride is pregnant. Delaware's law is similar to Maryland's.

'Age differences'

Statewide, 26 percent of births to girls 15 and younger in 1996 involved fathers 18 and older, according to the Governor's Office for Children, Youth and Families. Thirty percent of births to girls 15 and younger in 1996 involved fathers ages 15 to 17, and 41 percent of girls in that age group did not report the father's age.

"What we don't have is a predator problem that is causing all of our teen births," said Patti Flowers-Coulson of the Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy. "What we do have is a great concern for the age differences that do occur, particularly in girls under the age of 15."

Pub Date: 10/02/98

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