Students will demonstrate knowledge of U.S. marriage laws as they pertain to minors. Students will present an argument for or against the alteration of these laws to accommodate marital practices of the Hmong culture.
Formal Requirements for Marriage in the U.S.
There are three requirements that must be met in order to have a valid marriage.
1) Both parties involved must consent to become married. Both parties involved must not only consent, but must also be competent in understanding the nature of the act of marriage.
2) There must be solemnization of the marriage. Generally, states require blood tests and a marriage license. The license usually becomes valid three days after it has been issued and expires after 180 days.
Common Law Marriage:
Common law or informal marriage, in some states, is a valid marriage entered into without formal solemnization. (blood test, marriage license, or public ceremony) In common law marriages, the two parties live together as husband and wife and express an intent to be married. Because there are no records of common law marriages, it is sometimes difficult to prove that an exchange of vows or intent were exchanged. Because of this, legislatures in many states seek to abolish this form of marriage.
1) At age 18, people are allowed to marry freely.
2) Parties age 17, may marry if they obtain parental consent.
3) In some states, a court order is necessary to authorize the marriage of parties less that 17 years old.
Effect of Non-Compliance:
If there has been disregard for the age requirements, then the parties involved are in non-compliance. If one or both of the parties are underage, the marriage is not legal or it may be voidable. The marriage becomes validated when the underage person or persons become 18, and show an intent to ratify the marriage. Depending upon the age of the parties involved, statutory rape laws may apply.
Hmong Marriage Customs:
Below are several unwritten marriage customs practiced by the Hmong who live in Laos.
1) The minimum age of marriage without parental consent is 14 to 18 years of age.
2) If one or both of the parties is younger than 14, consent must be given by the parents or guardians.
3) In Laos, men may have more than one wife at a time, but women may only have one husband.
4) A man or boy may take a girl or woman home to live with him. This form of marriage is called zij pojniam or “capture”. This is not kidnapping, because the female must give her consent. The groom and his family have 24-48 hours to make the bride’s family aware of the “capture.”
5) The parents and clan leaders of the groom must go to the house of the bride to make all marriage arrangements. Also, the groom’s family is responsible for all of the wedding costs.
6) Parents, relatives and leaders of the wedding issue a certificate of marriage and announce to everyone that the couple is now married.
7) In the eyes of the community, the husband and wife are married for life. The wife is under the reasonable control of her husband, and no one is to interfere with thei
8) If there are marital problems, the couple should turn to their parents and clan leaders for help. They are viewed as authorities on matters concerning marriage.
9) It is the responsibility of the man to take care of his wife and children.
Students will participate in a town hearing in which proponents and opponents of the Hmong community marriage practices come together to debate the right of parents to encourage the early marriage of their daughters.
The town meeting will be presided over by Judge Flake, who sees this as a fact finding meeting. She is interested in hearing what everyone has to say, especially the parties involved. She will allow protest signs in the town meeting hall.
All students will receive a copy of the information for role-play. This will give students a point of reference when presenting their argument for or against the ban on Hmong practices.
The classroom will be set up auditorium style. Every member in the class will carry a sign with a graphic and slogan they designed for the hearing. Each sign should take a clear stand for or against a ban.
All interested parties will be allowed to speak and Judge Flake will decide for or against a ban based on the arguments presented.
1) The teacher will copy and distribute the information on U.S. and Hmong marriage customs to students.
2) The teacher will assign students to various roles, and distribute role-play information particular to each character.
3) Students who do not have a specific role, will serve as proponents and opponents of a Hmong marriage practice ban. *Please note: The teacher may have to designate certain students to opposing sides to ensure a balance.
4) Students will use art and creative writing skills to produce signs and slogans for and against standard U.S. marriage laws and / or against Hmong marriage practices.
(Hmong Mother #1)
You are the mother of a 14 year old girl. A Hmong man, age 22, wishes to marry this daughter. You and your family are very proud, and have negotiated a bride’s price for her. You are happy that your daughter will not be found among the many women who at age 18, are still without a husband to care for them. The clan and family of the groom will be visiting shortly to finalize the arrangements. You can hardly wait! It seems like only yesterday when you too were a young bride at 15 years of age. Your daughter has done well.
(Hmong Mother #2)
You are very happy that your son has decided to many. It was wise for him to select a young bride so it will be easier to train her in the ways of your clan. You are anxiously awaiting the day that she will arrive in your home. She and your son will sleep in the small room near the kitchen. It will be nice having another pair of hand to help with the household chores. Quite frankly, it will be nice having a new daughter.
(Hmong Father # 1)
You and your wife are pleased with the plans set forth by the groom’s clan. Ishri, your 14 year old daughter, has done well. You hope she has not been ruined by the American culture that you have tried desperately to protect her from.
(Hmong Father #2)
You, like Ishri’s father, have tried to raise your children in the ways of your people. You are glad that your son is prepared to take a wife. He is hard-working and will make a good husband. He will provide well for his new bride and their children. You are a little concerned because you have heard that she may have some career ambitions. You hope she’s not too “Americanized” or there may be trouble.
(Ishiri) Age 14
You have just been told by your parents that the very handsome cousin of Ishi, your best friend, would like to marry you. You have grown up in a traditional Hmong home where parents are always respected and the need to preserve the culture is enforced. Although your mother and sister both married at early ages, you’re not sure that’s what you want to do. You have watched some of the mothers of your non-Hmong friends who have pursued careers outside of the home. From your perspective, there are pros and cons to their life choices just as there are for your mother. These women look prosperous, drive nice cars and go on expensive vacations. They have their own money and they don’t appear to feel inferior to their men. On the other hand, many of them have unhappy marriages, their children are raised by strangers from the time they are infants. They don’t have the love and security of an extended family whose goal is to see the family remain strong. You are an exceptional student and you love children. You’ve toyed with the idea of becoming a pediatrician. Your mom says that love for children will make you a better wife and mother.
(Isho) Age 22
Your parents have spoken to you extensively about a need for a wife. They feel that if you wait much longer, you will have to pay a greater bride’s price for a girl as young as Ishiri. You spotted her on several occasions, and decided that you would like to have her as your bride. Your first cousin Ishi, is her best friend. She has told you of her intelligence and love for children and traditional values. She has also warned you that she is a dreamer who is torn between the values she has learned at home and those she has learned from her “other” friends. You really want a traditional life. You like knowing that your role is clearly defined as the breadwinner and head of the family. You feel a strong family unit may be destroyed if the roles for husbands and wives are not traditional.
(Ishi) Age 15
You are excited about the marriage between your cousin, Isho, and your best friend, Ishiri. You can’t wait until someone has asked for your hand in marriage, after all, you are 15. When the two of them marry, you will have a chance to spend more time together, because you will be in the same clan. Your only worry is that Ishiri may be too American. Her parents have not been as strict as yours on some issues, and Ishiri has been allowed to become friendly with many outsiders. She sometimes talks of high school and college. She’s even mentioned perhaps becoming a doctor. Overall, you think things will work out all right.
A case has been brought against the parents of Ishiri. School officials were notified that she would be withdrawing from school to become a wife. Social services became involved, and the case has come before you. You have angry members of the Hmong community who feel that U.S. courts should not meddle in their cultural affairs, while there are child protection and women’s rights agencies calling for laws against marriage customs that restrict the social educational, and economic advancement of young girls and women.
(Attorney Williams) Attorney for the Hmong
Given all the information presented, you must make an appeal for the rights of the Hmong community to peacefully exist in the U.S. with their culture intact. You must present evidence showing that women in this culture are not harmed, and that it is through the “arrogant eyes” of non-community members that injustice and exploitation of women and young girls is seen.
(Attorney Wamer) Attorney for the State
You are appalled by the practice of the Hmong community. You feel the lives of young women are being sacrificed to preserve the traditions of an antiquated culture. You must describe the ill effects of these marriage customs and argue for a ban of these practices.