Ohio senators voted unanimously Thursday, 32-0, to raise the marriage age for girls to 18, more than a year after a Dayton Daily News investigation documented thousands of cases of underage boys and girls getting married.
The Ohio House passed the bill in June. The bill now heads to Gov. John Kasich.
Current law sets the marriage age at 16 for girls and 18 for males, but children of any age may marry in Ohio if they have parental and juvenile court consent.
HB511 would move the marriage age to 18 for both the bride and groom, allow 17-year-olds to marry with juvenile court approval and prohibit 17-year-olds from marrying someone more than four years older than them.
“It’s incredibly important that we finally updated this outdated law which doesn’t align with 21st-century values. And the passage of this legislation is a step in the right direction,” said Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights. “Most people are shocked to learn that children as young as 14 are getting married in Ohio. This often leads to emotional trauma, fewer educational opportunities and increased risk of abuse. We have a duty to enact this law and protect our children.”
When asked by the Senate Judiciary Committee why not limit marriage to 18 and older, state Rep. Laura Lanese, R-Grove City, said “Nationwide, these have been very difficult bills to pass.”
The Daily News found a case of a pregnant 14-year-old girl marrying her 48-year-old boyfriend with the blessing of her parents and a Gallia County judge in 2002. Between 2000 and 2015, 4,443 girls age 17 or younger were married in Ohio, including 59 who were 15 and younger, state records show.
Advocates for stricter marriage laws say Ohio’s laws are too lenient, setting girls up for failure and even exploitation. But it’s not just girls who are marrying before age 18: 301 boys age 17 or younger were married during the time frame studied by the newspaper, including 25 to women who were age 21 or older.
Girls who marry young often struggle financially and most of the marriages don’t survive. A national study in 2012 found American women who marry before their 18th birthday trail those who delay marriage in educational attainment, mental and physical health and financial security; 80 percent of the marriages did not last, the study found.
Unchained At Last, a non-profit group seeking to end underage marriage across the globe, reports that two states adopted strict bans of marriage before age 18 and many other states, including Ohio, have passed or are considering legislation to raise marriage ages. The group opposes bills that include exemptions for anyone under age 18.
Erin Ryan of the Women’s Public Policy Network spoke in favor of HB511, saying, “While child marriage is decreasing in the United States, it’s not happening fast enough.”
PAST STORIES IN THIS INVESTIGATION