Main question: The specific US legal statutes on forced marriage (would expect federal, yet not sure)?

Reading through Wikipedia, I was surprised to find that Forced Marriage only became illegal in the UK in 2014 and Canada in 2015 respectively. And the USA was not listed anywhere.

I then looked at: USA (forced marriage) and Sex Trafficking (forced marriage)(USA) expecting it to be listed, yet they only talked about sex trafficking, with "they're usually forced to get married."

The USA website on the topic is also rather vague. It doesn't point you at a law. Does not say "is blatantly federally illegal."

[emphasis mine] "The U.S. government is opposed to forced marriage and considers it to be a serious human rights abuse .... In some U.S. states, forced marriage is a crime, and in all U.S. states, people who force someone to marry may be charged with violating state laws, including those against domestic violence, child abuse, rape, assault, kidnapping, threats of violence, stalking, or coercion."

The State Department also mostly just says its a problem, "call us."

Question Reiteration: What is the actual US law on forced marriage? If no federal law, then at least general summary of the state landscape? (My Guesses: Always/mostly/sometimes outright illegal? Frowned upon? Only enforced relative to trafficking?)

  • 1
    For starters, such a marriage is legally void, as uncoerced consent of both spouses is a requirement. As for the other violations, the crime might not be the marriage per se, but rather other conduct that would almost inevitably accompany it. The exact charges would depend on the exact circumstances. Aug 26, 2023 at 21:03
  • 1
    Some of the logic used in US v Windsor to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act could make an argument that the federal government doesn't have the power to regulate marriage in this way, and that it must be left to the states. In general, the vast majority of criminal law is at the state level; federal criminal law usually has very limited applicability. Aug 26, 2023 at 21:14
  • 1
    marriage is state law but for where it interacts with federal law.
    – Trish
    Aug 26, 2023 at 21:32

1 Answer 1


The lack of relevant federal law in the US is because regulating marriage is not within the scope of federal law, it is a matter determined at the level of the state. Washington's RCW Chapter 26.04 is a typical marriage law. See RCW 26.04.130, the definition of voidable marriage:

When either party to a marriage shall be incapable of consenting thereto, for want of legal age or a sufficient understanding, or when the consent of either party shall be obtained by force or fraud, such marriage is voidable, but only at the suit of the party laboring under the disability, or upon whom the force or fraud is imposed.

In every state such marriages are voidable. In 9 states, forcing a person to marry is a crime. In California,

Every person who takes any woman unlawfully, against her will, and by force, menace or duress, compels her to marry him, or to marry any other person, or to be defiled, is punishable by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170

which has been the law since 1870.

  • Ok, thanks. That at least gives me an idea of the landscape and the logic being used as far as enforcement. In most, it sounds like someone may say you're married, yet you can ask to have it voided, and it will (almost) always be granted. And thank you to Nate and Trish for some of the commentary context. Accepted above.
    – G. Putnam
    Aug 27, 2023 at 21:59
  • Does "takes any woman unlawfully" mean it's legal to forcibly marry a man in California? Or can we assume there's some post-1870 modification?
    – TripeHound
    Aug 29, 2023 at 7:17

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .