Kentucky legislators passed a bill on Friday that seeks to tighten restrictions on child marriage, which advocates said is aimed at blocking weddings between younger girls and older men, a situation they say can lead to domestic violence.
The bill awaits the signature of Governor Matt Bevin, who has not taken a public position on it. His office could not be reached for comment.
Senate bill 48 would restrict anyone younger than 17 from getting married without parental approval. Under current Kentucky law 16- and 17-year-olds may marry with parental consent, and a district judge can approve marriages for younger children if the girl is pregnant.
Supporters of the bill claim child marriages are not often between teenagers. Instead, they are often marriages of younger girls to older men and can lead can lead to increased domestic violence and abuse, said Donna Pollard, who testified before a state House of Representatives committee earlier this week.
Pollard was 16 when she married a 30-year-old man with her mother’s approval, and she said the marriage resulted in domestic abuse, according to a statement from the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission, the lawmakers’ support organization.
About 4 percent of Kentuckians ages 15 to 17 are married, compared with the national average of 4.6 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. Neighboring West Virginia has the highest rate, at 7.1 percent.
Only 7 percent of child marriages in Kentucky from 2000 to 2015 involved two minors, Pollard said in the commission statement. There were about 11,000 marriages involving minors in Kentucky during that period, she said.
Kentucky’s bill is one of several proposals aimed at reducing teen marriages that have been taken up in U.S. state legislatures this year.
Last week, Florida lawmakers passed a bill that allows 17-year-olds to wed only if there is parental consent and no more than a two-year age difference between spouses. That bill awaits Governor Rick Scott’s signature.
Reporting by Steve Bittenbender; Editing by Ben Klayman and Leslie Adler