Fifteen months after a Dayton Daily News investigation revealed thousands of cases of underage boys and girls getting married, Ohio senators voted unanimously Thursday to raise the marriage age to 18 with few exceptions.
Already approve by the Ohio House in a 90-2 vote in June, the bill now heads to Gov. John Kasich’s desk for his signature.
“This bill marks a major step forward for Ohio in strengthening its laws to better protect girls from abuse and exploitation in the guise of marriage,” said Jeanne Smoot, senior counsel for public policy and strategy at the Tahirih Justice Center, a non-profit group leading a national campaign to end child marriage.
The bill before Kasich includes an exception to allow a 17-year-old to marry a person up to four years older if the minor obtains consent from a juvenile court and waits 14 days.
The bill also requires proof of age for any person seeking a marriage license.
Current Ohio law sets the marriage age at 18 for men and 16 for girls, provided that the girl’s parents or guardians sign-off on the arrangement.
“It’s incredibly important that we finally updated this outdated law which doesn’t align with 21st century values,” said Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights. “We have a duty to enact this law and protect our children.”
Yuko had introduced a more-stringent bill which would have banned marriages under 18 without exception.
The Dayton Daily News’ 2017 investigation found Ohio judges have approved thousands of marriages involving minors since 2000. Using the state’s open records law, the newspaper obtained 15 years of marriage records from the Ohio Department of Health and examined the data. Among the findings:
• Between 2000 and 2015, 4,443 girls age 17 or younger were married in Ohio between 2000 and 2015, including 59 who were 15 or younger. The number of teen marriages has been in decline in recent years, as has the number of all marriages.
• It’s far more common for girls under 18 to marry, but 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.
• Marriage licenses involving girls 17 and under were filed in 47 counties — more than half the counties in Ohio. Typically, the girl is pregnant or has already delivered the baby; Grooms, on average, were four years older than the brides.