Saturday, February 16, 2019

Minors Go Major, Part II

As promised, I’m returning to the subject of teens and voting. I got some thought-provoking feedback after “Minors Go Major?” last week.

More than one respondent pointed to the activism of young people following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkand, Florida. It is certainly true that we saw teens motivated, educated, active, and involved in the election process over the last year. Some pointed out that many folks over the age of 18 are woefully uninformed about candidates and issues yet we do not use this as a reason to prevent them from voting.

Everyone agreed that America could do a much better job educating children, teens, and adults about the political process, how our government works, and a citizen’s  responsibility to vote.

Several people tactfully pointed out that the areas of concern I raised about sixteen year olds voting have been used in the past a barriers for the right to vote for the disabled, African Americans, and women. That certainly gives me pause.

Let’s look at some of the age demarcations that bestow certain rights and/or responsibilities.

16, 17: Get married with parental consent
17: Join military with parental consent
18: Marry without parental consent
      Join military without parental consent
21: Purchase, consume alcohol

Now it’s getting sticky for me. I have been following Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary’s work to make child marriage illegal in the State of Maryland. There are many reasons why marrying under the age of 18 is problematic, especially for young women.  But...

If we say a young woman of 16 is not able to freely consent to get married, then must we also say that she is not able to make her own decision about birth control and whether or not to terminate a pregnancy? You may say that those two are not comparable, but it’s that tricky concept of capability and consent. How old is old enough? Who gets to be empowered? Who is protected?

And why do we make the decisions we do about who gets to be empowered or protected? It’s complicated.

And you thought we were talking about sixteen year olds getting to vote.

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