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My Progress

 

Sherry Johnson published a book detailing her experience as a child bride, Forgiving the Unforgivable: Purple in a Darker Color. She is opposed to child marriage on the basis that children cannot enter into other legal contracts. 


Johnson asked, "You can’t get a job, you can’t get a car, you can’t get a license, you can’t sign a lease, so why allow someone to marry when they’re still so young?" 


Johnson also believes that permitting child marriage allows rapists to escape the legal consequences of their crimes by marrying their victims. Speaking on how she was forced to marry the man who raped her, Johnson said, "No one actually protected me. They protected him by putting the handcuffs on me, instead of putting the handcuffs on him, and he was the rapist."


In 2012, Johnson began advocating in the Florida Legislature to make child marriage illegal. Johnson initially faced opposition or disbelief from lawmakers, with some lawmakers incorrectly asserting to her that child marriage such as hers was not legal in Florida, or that her case was anomalous. However, Johnson's ideas gained traction with lawmakers over time. After the Florida Senate voted unanimously to ban child marriage, Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto called Johnson "the reason for the bill." The proposed ban on child marriage was amended, however, to allow 17-year-olds to marry. Seventeen-year-olds can marry in the State of Florida, regardless of pregnancy status, as long as their intended partner is less than two years older than they are. Such couples would also have to take a premarital preparation course, as well as sign an affidavit that the marriage is not coerced. If pregnant, the couple must receive additional counseling. 


This amended legislation again passed unanimously in the Senate; in the House, support was near-unanimous, with George Moraitis the lone dissenter. Moraitis stated, "I’m particularly focused on the pregnancy aspect of it. I don’t want the message to be that it’s better to not get married." On March 23, 2018 SB 140 was signed into law.


Although the bill was not an outright ban on child marriage in Florida, Johnson was pleased with the legislative victory, and remains firm in her activism against child marriage. 


“My mission is for the world, for the children all over the world,” she said. “It’s not just Florida . . . It’s for the children everywhere.”