By Alana Glover, CFCC Student Fellow (2018-2019)
Recently, Delegate Atterbeary presented HB 1147 before the Maryland General Assembly that would have established an emancipation process in Maryland for the first time and would have changed the age at which youth could get married under discrete and specific circumstances. H.B. 1147, 2019 Leg. Sess. (Md. 2019). This bill specifically would have both positive and negative effects for vulnerable populations, which include homeless youth and young mothers looking to start a family. See id. As of April 1, 2019, the bill had passed through both the House and the Senate with its third reading with specified amendments. Third Reading H.B. Calendar No.49, Md. 2019 Leg. Sess. (2019). Although there were some language changes within the bill, the amendments did not change the general purpose and policy of the bill. The third reading passed through the House with a vote of 136-4 and through the Senate with a vote of 46-0. See id. The session ended before the bill could go back to the House with the Senate’s amendments, so it will not be presented to the Governor.
According to the fiscal and policy note published by the Department of Legislative Services, the bill was intended to do the following:
[S]et forth a process by which a minor may petition an equity court to become emancipated under specified circumstances. The bill also repeals provisions authorizing individuals ages 15 and 16 to marry under specified circumstances. Furthermore, an individual who is age 17 may only marry if (1) the individual has been granted an order of emancipation and presents a certified copy of the order to the court clerk; and (2) at least 30 days have passed since the order was entered.
Fiscal and Policy Note, at 1 (2019), as revised during third reading Maryland General Assembly 2019 Session, H.B. 1147.
This bill, as proposed, presents a variety of benefits for youth, as well as problems that may affect vulnerable populations in practice. This benefits homeless youth by establishing some method for emancipation that was not previously established. However, the bill can also harm minor parents whose own parents would otherwise consent to them starting a family and gaining the benefits that come along with marriage. The first aspect of the bill focuses on establishing an emancipation process for minors under specified circumstances. See H.B. 1147, 2019 Leg. Sess. (Md. 2019). Although there are many discussions surrounding the issue of how emancipation affects youth, emancipation may in many cases be considered a positive for a homeless youth. A report, entitled Alone Without a Home: A National Review of State Laws Effecting Homeless Youth, has an entire section focusing on the benefits of emancipation. Alone Without a Home, National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (Feb. 2019). The report discusses the pros and cons of emancipation and also explains what an ideal emancipation process would look like for a homeless youth. Id. In general, homeless youth have difficulty trying to obtain resources such as housing, food supplemental programs, and healthcare. See id. Typically, the emancipation process can help homeless youth to be recognized as legal adults, which would enable them to obtain access to these resources before they reach the age of majority. Id. Drafters of the study recommend that all states should establish an emancipation process. Id. They also suggest there should be no age requirement and that the emancipation process should be based on an assessment of a youth’s ability to live alone and independently. Id. In addition, the drafters emphasize that an emancipation process should include safeguards to make sure that abuse is prevented and that parents do not have too strong of a hold on the process and ultimately take the power from the youth. Id. Finally, they recommend a process with little court involvement if there is agreement between the youth and the youth’s parents, and, if there is court involvement, that the youth be provided with counsel. Id.
As stated previously, currently Maryland does not have a formal emancipation process. In a statement made by NARAL Pro Choice Maryland, they discussed the importance of emancipation in Maryland and addressed some of their concerns regarding the bill in its entirety. Letter from NARAL, Pro-Choice Maryland, to the Hon. Luke Clippinger and Members of the House Judiciary Committee (Mar. 7, 2019), https://maryland.prochoiceamericaaffiliates.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2019/03/HB1147-MD-NARAL-FINAL.pdf. In support of the emancipation aspect of the bill NARAL expressly stated:
As advocates for youth, we are aware that teens may seek emancipation orders authorizing the same rights as adults for a variety of reasons and removing what is known as the “disability of minority”. We are aware that there are not enough resources for unaccompanied minors as well as youth who are living in situations where abuse, neglect, or criminal activity occur – and options will open up for them [i]f they have the right to contract.
NARAL is joined by the Baltimore Homeless Youth Initiative, the Juvenile Justice Round Table, the Youth Equality Alliance, and the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force in supporting the emancipation aspect of the bill. Id. NARAL also discusses specific reasons why this bill would be helpful by shining a light on specific instances that are common to homeless youth or vulnerable youth in general. Id. These examples include a youth’s income being stripped from him or her by a legal guardian who may be engaged in illegal activity; a youth needing to be self-sufficient legally from the parents who may be suffering from drug abuse or are incarcerated, etc.; and a youth being able to provide for themselves after being asked to leave the home due to sexual orientation, pregnancy, or other factors. See id. These issues are a reality for many homeless youth in Maryland, and the emancipation provision appears to offer a remedy to them.
Notwithstanding the clear benefits of the bill, there is another aspect of the bill that causes great concern for the youth population in Maryland. Prior to HB 1147 being brought this session, it had been presented, in part, by Delegate Atterbeary before. See Heather Cobun, Report: Maryland marriage laws make forced child marriage more likely, Vanessa Atterbeary Delegate, District 13, https://vanessaatterbeary.org/report-maryland-marriage-laws-make-forced-child-marriage-more-likely/. (last visited Apr. 29, 2019) However, when it was previously presented it did not include the emancipation provision; it only included the provision regarding the age of marriage. See id. The provision of the bill focusing on changing the age of marriage is the current problematic aspect of the bill. The bill as written would currently only allow youth to get married at 18 or only if both parties are at least 17 and have been fully emancipated from their parents. H.B. 1147, 2019 Leg. Sess. (Md. 2019). The bill removes the exception for youth who are pregnant or have given birth to a child. Id.
This can create many issues in practice. In 2015 the teen pregnancy rate in Baltimore was 36.2 per 1000 women, which is double the average within the entire state of Maryland. Baltimore City’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program: A Team Effort in Light of Federal Funding Cuts, Center for Adolescent Health (Feb. 01, 2019), https://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/center-for-adolescent-health/blog/u-choose-teen-pregnancy-prevention. This bill would make it harder for the youth to sustain a family if they are capable and they so choose. See id. Historically Baltimore City youth have been one of the most vulnerable populations, and this provision would most likely adversely affect this population the most. In an article entitled The Baltimore Uprising: Four Years Later, the author discusses how the youth of Baltimore City have consistently been plagued by “poverty, segregation, [a] profoundly underfunded school system, inadequate public transportation . . . the lead paint crisis, and police corruption.” Brandon Soderberg, The Baltimore Uprising, The Real News Network (April 19, 2019), https://therealnews.com/columns/baltimore-uprising-four-years-later. These issues that have plagued Baltimore City’s youth have been further exasperated by policy and legislation that do not consider these youths’ experiences and day-to-day reality. See id. That is exactly the issue here. Although the bill may be well-intentioned, the reality is that this bill creates a substantial obstacle for young parents to get married and to receive needed benefits, such as tax benefits, health insurance benefits, and property benefits, among others. Although the bill does allow for youth to be married after full emancipation, the process of emancipation and the age increase create a substantial obstacle that can infringe on a young couple’s ability to marry and to provide for a child to the best of their ability.
NARAL suggests the bill in the future may be passed without having such a detrimental impact on these vulnerable communities by lowering the age of marriage to sixteen, with the emancipation requirements intact. Letter from NARAL, Pro-Choice Maryland, to the Hon. Luke Clippinger and Members of the House Judiciary Committee (Mar. 7, 2019), https://maryland.prochoiceamericaaffiliates.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2019/03/HB1147-MD-NARAL-FINAL.pdf. Fortunately, because the bill did not ultimately pass through the 2019 session, there will be time to reanalyze the provisions of the bill. Although establishing an official emancipation process may be a benefit to homeless youth, it is important that the same law that establishes that process does not also harm an adjacent community.
 See in text where author, Heather Cobun, expressly states, “Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard County, has made two attempts to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 and said she intends to bring legislation again in 2018.”