Child marriages safe in West Virginia after ban narrowly defeated

Child marriages safe in West Virginia after ban narrowly defeated

(As originally published, Thu, March 9th 2023, 3:24 PM EST)

CHARLESTON, W. Va. (TND) — Children in West Virginia can continue to get married without new restrictions after a bill to stop the practice was narrowly defeated.

Last week, that bill to make 18 the age of consent passed the state’s House of Delegates but Wednesday night, it was defeated by a 9-8 vote in the Republican-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill would’ve stopped anyone under 18 from getting married, even with consent from parents or guardians, or by court petition. It would not have affected existing marriages or those from other states.

According to Del. Kayla Young, D-Kanawha County, there have been more than 3,600 West Virginia marriages since 2000 involving a child.

After the vote, she tweeted, “For now, there will be no floor for the age of marriage in WV.”

Some of the bill’s opponents argued teenage marriages are a part of life in the Mountain State.

Sen. Mike Stuart, R-Kanawha County, was quoted as saying his mother was married when she was 16,

and “six months later, I came along. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.“

But supporters say laws like this reduce domestic violence and unwanted pregnancies and improve the lives of teens.

The nonprofit group Unchained at Last reports seven states set the minimum age for marriage at 18, all since 2018.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2014, West Virginia had the highest rate of child marriages among the states. That’s when the state’s five-year average was 7.1 marriages for every 1,000 children ages 15 to 17.

West Virginia law will remain, letting children as young as 16 marry with parental consent. Anyone younger will need a judge’s waiver.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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