Fresh off a nine-day suspension for comparing homosexuality to bestiality and gays to terrorists, “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson is in the cultural cross hairs again, this time for a 2009 video where he suggests men should marry girls who are “15 or 16.”
Now, look here, as the TV show’s Uncle Si might say. In the video, there are chuckles in the crowd along with Mr. Robertson’s comments, and the tone is tongue-in-cheek.
Nevertheless, with the Robertson clan just trying to put the dustup with A&E, the cable channel that airs “Duck Dynasty,” in the rearview mirror, some critics have wondered whether Robertson is promoting pedophilia. At the very least, “this type of ‘river rat counseling’ is bound to raise eyebrows among network brass,” writes the Huffington Post.
For his part, Robertson married his wife, Kay, when she was 16 (and he was 20), which is allowed in Louisiana with parental consent. There’s logic to thinking young when thinking marriage, Robertson opined in the video, which was posted Monday on YouTube and was purportedly shot at a 2009 Georgia Sportsmen’s Ministry event. (The first “Duck Dynasty” episode aired in early 2012.)
Robertson can be seen offering what he calls “river rat counseling” to the group, and then goes on to suggest that “you got to marry these girls when they are about 15 or 16.” After suggesting that a younger woman will “pluck your ducks,” he adds, “Look, you wait 'til they get to be 20 years old, the only picking that's going to take place is your pocket," he says.
The riff is similar to one he relates in his book, “Happy, Happy, Happy: My life and legacy as the Duck Commander,” where Robertson writes that a teen bride would “pluck your ducks” while a 20-year-old “would only pick your pockets.” Robertson adds in his book, "Now, that's a joke, and a lot of people seem to laugh at it, but there is a certain amount of truth in it."
In the video, Robertson couches his advice to marry ‘em early by saying, “You need to check with mom and dad about that, of course.” Indeed, most states allow 16-year-olds to marry as long as parents consent and attend the ceremony. Some US states allow teens under 16 to marry, but only if a judge OKs the nuptials. Some states allow a pregnant teenager to wed without mom and dad’s blessings.
Census surveys show there are regional variations to the number of teen marriages. Southern states like Louisiana and conservative “red states” like Alaska have higher teen-marriage rates than New England states, for example.
Statistics also suggest that the core of Robertson’s argument – that younger brides make better marriages – may not be sage advice. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded in 2001 that nearly half of those who marry younger than 18 are divorced 10 years later, compared with 24 percent of those who marry after age 25. The marriage age of women in the US has risen from just over 20 in 1950 to nearly 27 today.
“Most young women don’t fare very well when it comes to raising a family as a teenager, and those precious few who get married, the marriages are very short-lived,” Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, told The New York Times in 2008. “I know and respect a lot of 17-year-olds, but I don’t think any of them are ready to be married and begin the lifelong task of raising a child.”
Marrying a teenage wife, it turns out, has been perhaps rarer than thought, even at periods in the distant past, according to author Peter Laslett. He writes in “The World We Have Lost” that among 1,000 marriage certificates issued by the Archdiocese of Canterbury in England in the 17th century, there was only one bride aged 13, four that were 15, and 12 that were 16; the vast majority of brides were at least 19 before they wed.
Robertson and his clan reached an agreement with A&E on Friday where Phil could return from an “indefinite hiatus” sparked by his comments to GQ magazine about homosexuality in exchange for the family’s support in efforts aimed at condemning intolerance. The agreement, however, isn’t likely to curb Robertson’s penchant for folksy advice.
Indeed, in 2009, Robertson gave the Georgia sportsmen a few other pieces of advice about how to pick a wife, including: “Make sure that she can cook a meal … and make sure she carries her Bible. That’ll save you a lot of trouble down the road.”