You Can Die For Your Country at 17, But Do Not Dare Have a Beer


Isn’t it about time for a universal minimum age law? It is all so confusing and morally questionable how varied the minimum age laws are throughout America? In some states you are able to get an unrestricted driver’s license as young as 16 (4), while in others you have to be 18 (17). In some states the age of consent is as young as 16 (29) while in others you must be 18 (12). In all cases you are eligible to vote, fight and die for your country at 18, but you can’t drink until 21, unless of course you live in the U.S, Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico, there you can have a cold one at 18, but you can’t vote. Or you are in one of the 40 states that have an exemption to the minimum legal drinking age requirement, e.g. the 11 states that allow you to drink in a bar with parental approval or the 16 states that allow underage drinking for medical purposes. And of course in all 50 states you can legally purchase cigarettes at 18. At 18 you can help decide the men and women who control your life and can end the world, but you are not eligible to be a Representative until you are 25, a Senator until you’re 30, and President until you’re 35.

By federal law (10 U.S.C., 505), the minimum age for enlistment in the United States military is 17 (with parental consent) and 18 (without parental consent). Got that? You can be taught how to legally main and kill with an M-16, and be shipped across the world, but you can’t have a beer or be elected to Congress. And in nine states if your parents consented to military enlistment you may not even be legally able to get drunk and get laid before you leave home. There appears to be something wrong with that equation.

In most states you have to be 18 to get married except in Nebraska (19) and Mississippi (21). Most states, however, allow minors below 18 to marry (generally they have to be at least 16 but sometimes lower) with parental and/or judicial consent, and some states allow female minors below 18 to marry without parental or judicial consent if she is pregnant. Marriage US Legal says, “California, Kansas, and Massachusetts, have no statutory minimum age under which marriage licenses will not be issued.” According to US Marriage Laws six states “allow pregnant teens or teens who have already had a child to get married without parental consent.” Talk about shotgun wedding confusion. You can get arrested for underage drinking, charged with statutory rape, and then be allowed to marry because of one wild night in the back of the car. Did you know in California a 14-year old can have an abortion without parental consent or knowledge?

The mature minor doctrine is a statutory, regulatory, or common law policy accepting that an unemancipated minor patient may possess the maturity to choose or reject a particular health care treatment, sometimes without the knowledge or agreement of parents, and should be permitted to do so. And of course the laws and age requirements vary from state to state.

Medical emancipation is different than the mature minor doctrine. Medical emancipation formally releases a child from some parental involvement requirements but does not necessarily grant that decision making to the child herself. For example medical emancipation allows a child like the 14-year old receiving an abortion in California, to receive “sexual-health services” without consent of the parent and possibly without their knowledge.   It also varies by age from state to state.

Child emancipation itself varies from state to state. An emancipated minor is a minor who is allowed to conduct a business or any other occupation on his or her own behalf or for their own account outside the influence of a parent or guardian.

What about child labor laws? In general, for non-agricultural jobs, children under 12 may not be employed, children between 12 and 16 may be employed in allowed occupations during limited hours, and children between 16 and 18 may be employed for unlimited hours in non-hazardous occupations. But there are exceptions for agricultural work, for example children as young as 12 may be employed in non-hazardous activity for unlimited hours outside of school hours with parental permission. That is the federal law, but states have child labor laws as well, and where state law differs from federal law on child labor, the law with the more rigorous standard applies.

The major league sports organizations have varying age requirements. In the NBA the minimum age requirement is 19, known as the “one and done rule” because it implies that you have to have completed at least 1 year of college before being eligible for the NBA. In major league hockey and baseball you must be 18 to be eligible for the major league draft, but the NFL requires that “that a player be three years removed from high school before being eligible for the Rookie Draft.” Again no consistency in the minimum age requirement for similar activity i.e. professional athlete.

No one is going to argue against a minimum age rule for drinking, driving or consensual sex. Or the need to have child labor laws, but do we need multiple interpretations, can’t there by a universal minimum age rule?