Legislation /

West Virginia Senate Committee Votes Against Banning 16- and 17-Years-Olds from Marrying

'Don’t worry, West Virginia…you can still marry off your toddlers and rape your own spouse without consequence,' the ban's sponsor said

The West Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee voted against a bill that would ban anyone under the age of 18 from getting married even with parental consent.

West Virginia will retain its current law which permits 16- and 17-year-olds to get married with parental consent. The current law also allows minors younger than 15 years old to get married if they obtain a waiver from a judge.

Under House Bill 3018, “a marriage by an underage person … though voidable at the time it is entered into, may be ratified and become completely valid and binding when the underage party reaches the age of consent.”

“Validation of a marriage by ratification is established by some unequivocal and voluntary act, statement, or course of conduct after reaching the age of consent,” states the bill. “Ratification includes, but is not limited to, continued cohabitation as husband and wife after the age of consent is attained.”

The state’s House of Representatives voted in favor of the ban 84-13 on March 1. State Delegate Keith Marple of Harrison County spoke in opposition to the ban. Marple, who noted he got married at 18, said the ban would only drive teens to other states to get married.

According to AP News, 259 girls and 52 boys under age 18 were married in West Virginia between 2015 and 2019.

WV Metro News reports there have been 700 marriages involving someone under the age of 18 since 2001 and that about 5% involved two teenagers. 

The bill’s main sponsor, state Delegate Kayla Young of Kanawha County, voiced her frustration with the Judiciary Committee’s vote on Twitter, saying none of the members spoke against the bill or ”admitted why they think children as young as infants should be legally allowed to be married off.” Young said there were “clearly pre-determined motions.”

Don’t worry, West Virginia…you can still marry off your toddlers and rape your own spouse without consequence……Thanks to the majority of members in Senate Judiciary,” Young tweeted on March 8.

According to another Twitter post from Young, nine members of the senate committee voted against the ban while eight voted in favor of the policy.

Delaware was the first state to bar anyone under the age of 18 from getting married in May of 2018. Previous state law has allowed a minor of any age to marry provided they obtained judicial consent.

New York enacted a ban on marriage for anyone under the age of 18 in June of 2021. In 2017, the state raised the age of consent for marriage from 14 to 17 if the minor had parental or judicial consent, per NBC News

Minnesota, Pennslyvania, and New Jersey also prohibit marriage before the age of 18. 

As of May 2021, 21 states permitted marriage at the age of 16, three states permitted marriage at 15, and two states permitted marriage at 14, per NewsNation.

England and Wales enacted legislation on Feb. 27 that prevents minors below the age of 18 from getting married or entering a civil partnership, striking down previously legal allowance if the minor had parental consent. The government argued the measure protected the vulnerable from forced marriages.

“This law will better protect vulnerable young people, by cracking down on forced marriage in our society,” said Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, in a statement. “Those who act to manipulate children into marrying under-age will now rightly face the full force of the law.”

Anyone in England or Wales who violates the law can face up to seven years in prison.

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