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Virginia’s Child Marriage Ban in Effect Soon, Plus Protections for Marriage Rights

Published Friday, Jun. 28th, 2024

Two grooms embrace and smile at each other on the wedding day
Photo: SolStock / iStock

On July 1st: Legal marriage age in Virginia raised to 18; right to marry protected regardless of race, sex, or gender



Two new marriage laws go into effect in Virginia on July 1st, 2024: One makes it illegal for children under the age of 18 to get married in the state; and the other protects the right of all people to apply for a marriage license, regardless of their sex, gender, or race. 


Here’s what to know! 



1. Virginia bans child marriage, raises the minimum legal age to marry to 18 years old


Previously, minors as young as 16 could marry in Virginia if they were legally emancipated, and emancipation could be granted for the sole purpose of marriage.


In these cases, children or their guardians could file a petition for emancipation with the juvenile and domestic relations district court, providing information about the minor and their intended spouse. The petition would then be assessed, investigated, and approved by the court. 


Beginning July 1st, 2024, anyone who wants to get married in Virginia must be at least 18 years old. Minors cannot marry (even if they’ve been emancipated), and cannot file for emancipation on the grounds of marriage. 


This legislation (House Bill 994 / HB994) was introduced in January by Delegates Karen Keys-Gamarra [D] , Nadarius Clark [D], and Rozia Henson [D]. It received significant opposition in the state House, with 40 Republican Delegates voting against. 6 Republicans joined 51 Democrat Delegates in voting in favor of the bill (with 3 members absent) to help ban child marriage in the state. 


Virginia joins a growing list of states to take action to protect children from the risks of underage marriage in recent years, including Washington State in March, Michigan in September of 2023,and Connecticut in June of 2023. Underage marriage is now banned in a dozen states in the US, and other states have taken measures to strengthen protections for minors who choose to marry there.  


Read the relevant update here: § 20-48 Minimum Age Of Marriage


What does this mean for AMM Ministers & wedding officiants in Virginia?


This law doesn't directly impact AMM Ministers who solemnize marriages in Virginia, or change any Virginia marriage officiant law. Marriage licenses are approved and issued by the Office of the Clerk of Circuit Court; a clerk will verify the age and identity of each person when they apply.


However, ministers and officiants should always verify a couple’s identities before performing their wedding ceremony, and ensure the marriage license hasn’t expired.


And remember, a Virginia marriage license must be used within 60 days of issuance, and must be returned within 5 days of the ceremony.




Group selfie at wedding, interracial couple smile with family and friends on the wedding day outside in the sunshine

Photo: PeopleImages / iStock

Updates to the Code of Virginia will raise the legal marriage age to 18 years old with no exceptions for emancipated minors, and codify the right to marry regardless of race, sex, or gender at the state level -- increasing protections for children, LGBTQ+ couples, and interracial couples in Virginia.



2. Marriage equality codified in Virginia state laws


LGBTQ+ and interracial couples who want to get married in Virginia can finally breathe a sigh of relief: State legislators have finally codified marriage equality! 


A new section added to the Code of Virginia guarantees the right for couples to apply for a marriage license in the state, regardless of their sex, gender, or race. No matter what happens in the future at the federal level (if say, Obergefell or Loving were overturned by a conservative Supreme Court), marriage equality is safe at the state level. 



Previous attempts to repeal the state’s outdated same-sex marriage bans failed, but legislators didn’t give up. This is great news!  


The new law provides exemptions for religious organizations and clergy members; when acting in their religious capacity, these officiants have the right to refuse to officiate any wedding. 


This legislation (Senate Bill 101 / SB101) was sponsored by Senators Adam Ebbin [D], Jennifer Boysko [D], Jennifer Carroll Foy [D], Lamont Bagby [D], Danica Roem [D], and Saddam Salim [D]. It received significant opposition from Republican lawmakers in both the state House and Senate, with 18 Republican Senators and 42 Republican Delegates voting against marriage equality in Virginia. Luckily, these naysayers were outnumbered. 


Read the new section here: § 20-13.2 Marriage lawful regardless of sex, gender, or race of parties.




Read Next: 



Officiant Toni performs a wedding for her daughters in a cave in Virginia, there is blue and purple pink lighting and they are surrounded by cool rock formations. They pose, smiling at the camera during the ceremony

AMM Minister Tonette Lawson, aka Chef Toni of Tesserts, officiated an epic queer wedding in a cave for daughter Beka and daughter-in-law Laura. Read the full article here. 



Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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