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Published: Tuesday, Mar. 23rd, 2021

Minors and Marriage: Six states re-examine the minimum age for marriage in a growing trend

Updated 7/1/2021

 

In the US, most states have provisions in their laws allowing minors -- children under the age of 18 -- to enter into legal marriages with other minors, or adults, with the permission of a parent or guardian. 

 

In the last few months, lawmakers in six states have introduced bills seeking to modify, or completely eliminate, these provisions. And the trend seems to be growing quickly, creating increasing interest and conversation around the topic of child marriage.  

 

In 2018, Delaware became the first state in the country to fully outlaw the marriage of minors, followed that same year by New Jersey. In 2020, both Pennsylvania and Minnesota passed measures removing any exceptions for children from their marriage laws.  

 

The topic of child marriages comes with a great deal of controversy, history, and confusion. While most states have minimum ages for individuals entering marriages, these ages vary by state, and sometimes by gender. 

 

For example, in Mississippi, males can marry at 17 with parental consent, while the age for females is lower, at 15 years old. And in California, there is no minimum age to marry, if parental consent is given, although court officials must rule out abuse or coercion on a case by case basis.  

 

 

Here’s a look at the states currently considering legislation to eliminate or modify provisions for the marriage of minors:
 

 

 

Hawaii Senate Bill No. 279

Introduced 1/22/21
Summary: Requires that in the event that one of the respective parties to a marriage contract is a minor and the other party is more than five years older than the minor, the child protective services unit of the department of human services shall investigate and report to the family court of the circuit in which the minor resides before the marriage is approved.

Update: This bill did not pass.

 


Illinois House Bill No. 3376

Introduced 2/22/2021
Summary: Amends the law to require proof that each party to the marriage is 18 years old in order to obtain a marriage license and marriage certificate. Removes provisions for parental or guardian consent, or judicial consent, for those under 18.

 

 

Kansas House Bill No. 2422

Introduced 2/25/21
Summary: Would require all persons to be 18 years of age to be eligible to give consent for marriage, and eliminate exceptions to such requirement.

 


Oregon House Bill No. 3380

Introduced 3/16/21
Summary: Modifies the description of marriage.  Increases minimum legal marriageable age to 18 years of age. Creates an exception for emancipated persons who are at least 16 years of age.

Update: This bill did not pass.


Utah House Bill No. 406

Introduced 2/23/2021
Summary: This bill amends provisions pertaining to the marriage of a minor by updating the documentation needed from a parent or legal guardian to establish relationship, including a signed affidavit. 

Update: This bill was passed on 3/17/2021.

 


West Virginia House Bill No. 3038

Introduced 3/10/21
Summary: A bill to amend and reenact A48-2-301 of the Code of West Virginia, establishing that 18 is the age of consent and removing the ability of an underage person to obtain consent to marry from parents, legal guardians, or by petition to the circuit court.

Update: This bill did not pass. 

 

 

image of a darkly colored wooden gavel with a gold stripe laying on its side, next to two gold wedding rings, to imply ruling on current marriage laws

 

 

Other noteworthy measures currently being considered: 

These measures aren’t intended to modify existing laws, but seek to raise awareness around the topic of child marriages. 

 

 


Michigan House Resolution No. 58

Introduced 3/18/2021
Summary: A resolution to declare March 18, 2021, as Ban Child Marriage Day in the state of Michigan.

 

 

US Senate House Resolution 485

Introduced 1/25/2021 (Reconsidered 3/16/2021)
Summary: Stronger Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act: An act to reauthorize the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, and for other purposes. In part, this act would require a study and report on, with regard to each state, the state’s minimum marriage age, the prevalence of marriage involving a minor, the extent to which any statutory exceptions in such laws contribute to the prevalence of marriage involving a child, whether these exceptions allow such a child to be married without their consent, and the impact of such exceptions on the safety of such children. 

 

 

Update: 

North Carolina Senate Bill No. 35, (House Bill No. 41), introduced on 2/02/21, also seeks to raise the minimum age to marry to 18, adding the state of North Carolina to this list. This bill would remove all exceptions to the minimum age requirement.

 

As mentioned above, conversation around this topic is becoming more frequent, as an increasing number of states reconsider their current laws.

 

 

 

AMM views marriage and the solemnization of marriage as sacred acts, and believes that legal unions should be entered into with a clear understanding of events, and the enthusiastic consent of each party. We do not feel that, as a general rule, minors are in a position to have the knowledge, clarity, equal footing, and depth of experience needed to consent to the legally binding contract of marriage. 

 

While we believe wholeheartedly that every couple has the right to celebrate their union any way they wish, we strongly support evolving legislation that helps to safeguard against any type of abuse, and protects the health and wellbeing of children. 
 


 

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