Vermont’s General Assembly has agreed to raise the state’s minimum marriage and could become the seventh state in the nation to not permit marriage before the age of 18.
Under current Vermont law, 16- and 17-year-olds can get married if they can provide written consent from one parent. The state Senate voted unanimously to pass the high marriage age on April 4.
The bill has now been transferred to Governor Phil Scott for his signature.
The Vermont legislature has twice previously considered and ultimately not acted on legislation that would raise the marriage age to 18.
Should House Bill 148 become law, it will mark the latest legislation for New Jersey-based Unchained at Last. The nonprofit has led a nationwide effort to raise the marriage age, arguing marriage involving minors constitutes a “human rights abuse” and that any marriage involving someone younger than 18 is child marriage.
“Child marriage, or marriage before age 18, was legal in all 50 U.S. states as of 2017,” according to the group’s website. “Thanks to Unchained’s relentless advocacy, that is changing. Delaware and New Jersey in 2018 became the first two states to end this human rights abuse, followed by American Samoa in 2018, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Pennsylvania and Minnesota in 2020, Rhode Island and New York in 2021 and Massachusetts in 2022.”
According to the nonprofit, 43 states still permit some teens to get married or have undefined regulations regarding minor-involved marriages. Unchained says “nearly 300,000 children as young as 10 were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018 – mostly girls wed to adult men.”
Fraidy Reiss, the founder of Unchained at Last, told the Vermont House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 16 about her personal experience as an underage bride while encouraging the committee to advance the bill.
“I’m not going to sit here and argue that you wake up on your 18th birthday with newfound wisdom and maturity and the ability to choose a life partner,” said Reiss, per VT Digger. “That’s absurd. But you do wake up on your 18th birthday magically with the rights of adulthood, and those rights are crucial to navigating any contract, especially a contract as serious as marriage.”
Reiss also argued that current state law does not provide any recourse for minors who do not wish to be married but whose parents are in favor.
Opponents of restricting marriage to people ages 18 and older have argued pregnant teens should be allowed to get married if they wish while others have said they would not want to discourage teens in serious relationships from getting married.
A similar proposal in West Virginia was intensely debated by the legislature in March.
West Virginia ultimately passed a law barring minors 15 and younger from getting married, requiring 16- and 17-year-olds to obtain parental consent, and establishing a maximum permissible age gap between would-be spouses.