West Virginia Republicans vote to keep child marriage legal
Republicans in the West Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee voted 9-8 to kill a law that would've ended child marriage in the state.
Right now the state, and six others, have no minimum age requirement for marriage. The law allows children as young as age 16 to be married off to adults, as long as the children have their parents' permission. (Anyone younger than 16 requires a judge's waiver to marry.) However, West Virginia has the highest rate of child marriage in the nation, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center report.
A proposed bill, introduced by Democratic state Delegate Kayla Young, would've raised West Virginia's minimum age for marriage to 18 and above.
After her bill's defeat, Young wrote, "I want to make it very clear that no one spoke against the bill. They just made the clearly pre-determined motions and killed the bill. No one admitted why they think children as young as infants should be legally allowed to be married off."
Republican Sen. Mike Stuart defended not raising the minimum marrying age by noting that his own mother had married at age 16. “Six months later, I came along. I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Stuart said, not mentioning the effects the marriage or pregnancy had on his mother's mental state or well-being.
Republican Del. Jim Butler, who voted against the bill, told Newsweek, "West Virginia is a socially conservative and traditional state, in my observation. Many middle age and elderly people that I know were married when younger than 18 and are still married many years later."
The Associated Press noted that 86% of underage children who get married are girls, meaning that West Virginia's laws primarily allow adult men to marry girls who have barely entered high school and aren't old enough to vote.
Right now, seven states have no minimum age requirement for marriage, according to Unchained at Last, an organization that opposes child marriage. These states include California, Washington, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.
Kansas allows children to marry at the age of 15. All other U.S. states set the ages for marriage at 16 and above.