Are women still considered marital property in Maryland? I know that seems like a strange question to ask in the 21st Century, yet Montgomery County, Maryland Delegate Charlotte Crutchfield (D19) and Senator Susan Lee (D 16) with bipartisan support in the House and Senate are working to pass Maryland House Bill 153 and Senate Bill 33 again this year. They have been working to get this done since 2019. I know it seems crazy, but it’s true, these two bills would stop abusers from using their marriage as a defense for rape. Yes, you read that correctly: married women and girls in Maryland have less protection under the law for rape than single women and girls. You are probably shocked and wondering how in 2022 it is possible for these laws to still exist. I mean, we are participating in the “Me Too” movement, aren’t we? Have you seen the many legislators, male and female, paying homage to the “Notorious RBG” with T-shirts and memes on their social media? Maryland is supposed to be one of the most progressive states in the country, so it is truly shocking for all of us to realize we still have archaic, harmful laws on the books. You will be even more shocked when you learn the heartbreaking reasons why this legislation cannot pass soon enough. One staggering statistic from The National Coalition on Homelessness states 63 percent of homeless women have been victims of domestic violence, including sexual assault, in their adult life. It’s horrible to imagine how many married women were forced to flee their homes to protect themselves from abuse, right?
If that’s not bad enough, abusers use child marriage as a defense for rape, especially when 15-year-old girls are legally allowed to marry in Maryland, thus avoiding statutory rape and trafficking laws. Many think of child marriage as a storybook Romeo and Juliet young love, but according to CBS News reports and other sources, 80 percent of child brides are married to adult men at least four years older who avoid statutory rape laws when they marry 15- and 16-year-old girls. They can then treat their child brides as property, taking them across state lines or out of the country. With the ERA still hanging in the wind and Roe vs. Wade in serious jeopardy, we cannot regress and ignore laws in Maryland that harm women and girls. Fifty years passed between 1919 and 1970, and women made great strides in changing harmful laws. Another 50 years passed from 1970 to 2022, yet the current laws on the books provide fewer protections for married women and girls than they do for single women. Single women absolutely deserve the strongest possible protections, but the institution of marriage cannot be used to deny those same safeguards to married women.
So why is this allowed to continue? If we allow laws like this to exist, how will Maryland ever move forward on a positive trajectory for future generations?
HB 153 passed the House of Delegates last week with a standing ovation and the most bipartisan votes thus far. When the bill was debated in the Senate, it got watered down with amendments disguised as compromises; this happened last year as well. It’s a tactic used far too often to keep laws on the books that disproportionately harm women and girls and continue the status quo. It is time for women voters to acknowledge this injustice and contact your state Senators, let them know enough is enough!
We are way behind the times. Red and blue states such as Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and the District of Columbia have already passed laws making marital rape a crime without loopholes. Fortunately for Maryland, we have some very astute and compassionate legislators. Delegate Crutchfield has been incredibly patient and poised in presenting the merits of her bill and has majority support from her fellow Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, especially former Vice-Chair Vanessa Atterbeary (now Chair of Ways & Means), and Delegates Sandy Bartlett, Emily Shetty, Lesley Lopez, and new Judiciary Vice-Chair David Moon. Senator Susan Lee is equally calm, patient, and poised as is Shelly Hettleman. It would be nice to see Senator Jill Carter support her female constituents and her female colleagues, though she did vote to move the bill out of committee. We only have three women Senators on the Judicial Proceedings Committee. This is obviously problematic and makes me wonder if more women Senators were on JPR would this bill have passed a long time ago?
JPR Chair Will Smith (D20) and Vice-Chair Jeff Waldstreicher (D18) have the opportunity to stand with the majority of women legislators on this bill. They voted in favor of Lee’s version, but I am wondering why they allowed the bill to get watered down with amendments disguised as compromises, essentially keeping married women and girls at square one. The watered-down version keeps married women and girls at a disadvantage.
This year is an election year, and women make up 57 percent of the Democratic electorate. We need to use our voices and advocate full protections under the law. Tell your legislators these bills by Crutchfield and Lee, which are supported by the majority of females and by most of the Democratic male legislators, are important to their base of women voters including their wives, their daughters, and, yes, their mothers.
Elections have consequences and women and girls have been suffering the consequences of these horrific laws for far too long in Maryland, We need to stop this injustice now!