Following a Dayton Daily News investigation into thousands of minors getting married in Ohio, lawmakers on Wednesday voted to raise the marriage age to 18 and allow 17-year-olds to marry under some conditions.
Ohio is among a handful of states reforming underage marriage laws. In May, Delaware made it illegal to marry before age 18, becoming the first state to do so. In June, New Jersey followed suit.
House Bill 511 would not be as strict as Delaware and New Jersey. Instead, it would allow 17-year-olds to marry if he or she obtains juvenile court consent and the partner is not more than four years older. A 17-year-old bride or groom would also face a 14-day waiting period.
Current Ohio law requires brides to be at least 16 and grooms to be at least 18, but exceptions are made for younger, pregnant teens if they have parental consent and juvenile court approval. That effectively means there is no legal minimum age for marriage in Ohio.
The Daily News investigation found that between 2000 and 2015, 4,443 girls age 17 or younger were married, including 59 who were 15 or younger. In one case, a Gallia County judge allowed a 14-year-old pregnant girl to marry a 48-year-old man in 2002 — 15 years later, they are still married.
House Bill 511, sponsored by state Rep. Laura Lanese, R-Grove City, and John Rogers, D-Mentor-on-the-Lake, passed on a 78-0 vote.
Lanese noted that Ohio doesn’t allow minors to buy alcohol or rent apartments, yet permits them to marry. Underage marriages are rife with the potential for abuse and often brides are coerced by their families to marry, she said.
Rogers said the bill moves Ohio “out of the stone age and into the 21st century.”
The bill still needs approval in the Ohio Senate, where a similar bill is already being debated.
Unchained at Last, a national group seeking to end child marriage worldwide, opposes any exceptions for marriage before age 18.
CHANGING THE SYSTEM
In September 2017, our Columbus Bureau reporter Laura Bischoff uncovered something that shocked Ohio lawmakers – that adults can still marry children in Ohio.
Her investigation found that kids as young as 14 are getting married. Laura uncovered that more than 4,400 girls younger than 18 were married in the state in the last 15 years. On Wednesday, state lawmakers took action based on Laura's reporting. Follow Laura on Facebook here
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