Editorial Roundup: Missouri

Kansas City Star. May 14, 2024.

Editorial: Teens can’t make lifelong commitments. Missouri must ban marriage under age 18

Missouri doesn’t have a stellar record when it comes to protecting young people — young women, especially — from the harms of marrying far too young.

Less than a decade ago, the Show-Me State was known as a “destination wedding spot for 15-year-old child brides.” That’s because it was issuing marriage licenses to people who had traveled hundreds of miles or more, from places like Florida, Idaho and Utah, and who were way too young to legally get married in their own states.

Thanks to a Kansas City Star investigation exposing the issue, the Missouri General Assembly eventually changed the law. Now the state forbids marriage licenses to anyone under the age of 16, and requires parental permission for 16- and 17-year-olds who want to marry. What’s more, no one under the age of 18 is allowed a license to marry anyone over the age of 21 — a necessary hedge against predatory relationships between teen girls and much older men.

That’s a good start.

State Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder, a Scott City Republican, and state Sen. Lauren Arthur, a Kansas City Democrat, this year have spearheaded legislation that would completely prohibit anyone under 18 — anyone who is not yet legally an adult, after all — from obtaining a marriage license. We think they make a compelling case.

“In Missouri, you have to be 18 to sign a legally binding contract,” Rehder wrote in a Star guest commentary in March. “Yet, we allow parents to sign a lifelong commitment on behalf of their children. This makes no sense. It’s time to end child marriage.”

Rehder and Arthur’s colleagues in the Missouri Senate agreed with that logic. Last month, they voted nearly unanimously — 37 to 1 — for the bill. But the legislative session is winding down this week without any action in the Missouri House: The legislation is being held up in committee by a few conservative opponents.

“Why,” asked Rep. Dean Van Schoiack of Savannah, “is the government getting involved in people’s lives like this?”

It’s a reasonable question. The answer? Getting married before reaching adulthood doesn’t often end well for the young women involved.


“Girls in the U.S. who marry in their teens are more likely to drop out of high school, never graduate from college, and end up living in poverty, and they are at greater risk of psychiatric disorders,” Fraidy Reiss, founder of the anti-child-marriage outfit Unchained at Last, wrote in 2021 for the peer-reviewed Journal of Adolescent Health. Rehder, in her piece for The Star, said as many as 80% of those marriages end in divorce.

That makes intuitive sense: Teens are still working out the ideas and identities that will guide them through life. Most adolescents we know are ill-equipped to make the lifetime commitment that marriage demands. Sure, some of those marriages — as Van Schoiack pointed out — surely do work out well. They would seem to be more the exception than the rule, however.

The worst objection to the bill, though, comes from Rep. Hardy Billington of Poplar Bluff.

“My opinion is that if someone (wants to) get married at 17, and they’re going to have a baby and they cannot get married, then …chances of abortion are extremely high,” he told The Star.

Missouri already bans abortion, though. Using the state’s marriage laws as yet another backdoor method of cementing that ban is a bad idea that gives more weight to conservative culture war concerns than to the well-being of young women.

Now, we don’t agree with Arthur, who told The Star that any opposition to the bill is “an excuse to protect predators.” There can be reasonable concerns, including how the legislation would affect teen parents trying to raise a child together.

But we’re ultimately persuaded by the underlying logic of the bill: Adult decisions are for adults to make.

“We’re not arguing that you wake up on your 18th birthday with a newfound wisdom and maturity and the ability to choose a life partner,” Reiss told The 19th News last year. “It’s about legal capacity: You wake up on your 18th birthday with legal rights of adulthood.”

The Missouri House has until Friday, when the session ends, to let us know if it agrees.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch. May 17, 2024.

Editorial: Protect abused boarding school kids? ‘Not my job,’ says Missouri’s lawyer

As Missouri’s lawyer, Andrew Bailey has never been one to let a little thing like the legal limitations of his power prevent him from mobilizing his office for a headline-grabbing, lib-owning crusade when he wants to.

In his 16 months in office, the Republican attorney general has launched all kinds of legal salvos, courtesy of the taxpayers — against voting rights, against trans rights, against school district curriculum and diversity policies, against immigrants.

The common thread is that these were all actions in which Bailey’s office had little or no legitimate role. Yet again and again, he finds ways to stretch the limits of his authority and throw his official weight around in order to demonstrate his culture-war cred.

If only the children potentially suffering abuse at Missouri boarding schools could get that kind of attention from Missouri’s top legal official. Activists are begging him to step up and use his considerable bully pulpit to spotlight the issue.

Alas, the schools are Christian organizations with a distinctly right-wing cultural base. Bailey needs the fringe right to win election to the office he was appointed to last year.

So the kids are on their own, his office told the activists this week.

Missouri has an especially troubling history with physical and sexual abuse at religiously affiliated boarding schools, which until a few years ago were completely unregulated here.

Lawsuits and criminal cases prompted a 2021 state law that brought some state regulatory control over the schools — though they still aren’t formally licensed by the state. Earlier this year, some conservative legislators attempted to loosen even that too-loose state oversight.

Thankfully they failed. But it highlighted how the far-right political culture in parts of rural Missouri still don’t accept the premise that Christian boarding schools housing young students cannot be allowed to operate without government scrutiny.

Activists allege abuse is still happening at the schools. Some of them this week picketed Bailey’s St. Louis office demanding that he investigate.

“We beg you as emphatically as possible,” wrote activist David Clohessy in a letter delivered to Bailey, “to help expose, deter, and prevent potential crimes and criminal cover ups at dozens of similar, largely under-the-radar ‘schools’ in remote parts of Missouri.”

Bailey’s office responded to media inquiries with a statement that read in part: “The Attorney General’s Office does not have the legal authority to investigate or bring criminal charges, including those of sexual abuse and human trafficking, unless ordered to do so by the governor or a local judge.”

Excuse us?

Isn’t this the same Andrew Bailey who showily sued Planned Parenthood in February for “trafficking minors out of state to obtain abortions” — a suit based on a fictional girl concocted by a right-wing sting operation?

So an imaginary girl is worthy of protection by the Missouri Attorney General’s office, but real girls being abused at Christian boarding schools aren’t?

Bailey’s Not my jurisdiction stance would be marginally more understandable if he was a by-the-book public servant with a history of restraint in use of his authority. But in fact, he is the polar opposite of that.

As he has shown repeatedly, there’s plenty he can do to spotlight issues short of filing criminal charges. Bailey routinely, eagerly flings his office into debates where he has questionable (or zero) jurisdiction — but only, apparently, when there’s a chance to toss some red meat to the base and land another Fox News interview.


• In March, Bailey sued Media Matters, the national watchdog group, for exposing how X (formerly Twitter) places ads from major companies next to antisemitic tweets. The suit was in direct response to X owner Elon Musk’s complaints regarding the group.

So a distant right-wing billionaire gets official action from Missouri’s attorney general, while Missouri activists outside his office demanding help for abused kids get a form letter?

• Bailey last year challenged the state auditor’s modest official cost estimate for an abortion-rights referendum, claiming instead it would cost billions in lost tax dollars from unborn Missourians. The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously rejected his argument in a scathing opinion saying Bailey never had legal authority to even weigh on the question.

So Bailey will reach beyond his official authority to prevent Missourians from voting on public policy, but he won’t even hold a press conference on behalf of abused kids?

• Last month, Bailey sent a threatening letter to Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas for publicly inviting immigrants to work in his city. Lucas specified that he was referring to immigrants with legal work permits. Bailey wrote that that didn’t matter because, in his opinion, the Biden administration’s designation of legal immigrants is itself illegal.

So Bailey will unilaterally condemn federal immigration policy, but won’t even talk about Missouri policy regarding abused kids at boarding schools?

• Bailey this month announced his office will provide legal defense for three Republican state senators being sued for defamation for their social media posts falsely implicating a bystander in the Kansas City Chiefs parade shooting and of being an illegal immigrant. Even Republican Gov. Mike Parson has decried Bailey’s use of state resources for that purpose.

So Bailey will wield the power of his office in defense of slander by fellow right-wing politicians — but not to defend abused kids?

There’s more. Lots more. It’s catalogued in the Editorial Board’s “ Bailey Tally,” our running list of the worst offenses from Missouri’s very worst demagogue.

Even as his office punted on the boarding school issue this week, Bailey took to ( where else? ) Fox News to tout his crackdown on businesses that hire illegal immigrants, saying he will “fill the vacuum created by the federal government’s ineptitude” on immigration.

There is in fact nothing to stop Bailey from using his office to similarly “fill the vacuum” on boarding school oversight, rallying and assisting local officials to launch much-needed inquiries.

But that would wield his power in a way that merely helps abused kids, while potentially putting off Christian-conservative voters.

Better to use Missouri tax dollars in service to right-wing billionaires, reckless slanderers and anti-immigrant xenophobes. This is, after all, an election year.