On Thursday, the Ohio Senate unanimously passed a bill that would effectively end child marriage in the state of Ohio. House Bill 511 (HB 511), introduced on February 14th, 2018, would establish eighteen as the minimum age to get married, regardless of gender, with few exceptions.
As the law currently stand, under Ohio Revised Code 3101.01, the minimum age of marriage is eighteen for men and sixteen for women. However, if certain conditions are met, marriage can be legal at almost any age, should the parent and judge consent. In addition, Ohio is one of only seven states that permits the minimum age to be lowered when a woman is pregnant. The other six are Arkansas, Indiana, Maryland, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oklahoma.
In early September 2017, the Dayton Daily News published their findings of an investigation into the practice of child marriage in the state of Ohio. The report revealed a shocking litany of statistics, most notably that:
4,443 girls age 17 or younger were married in Ohio between 2000 and 2015, including 59 who were 15 or younger.
Ohio saw statewide, bipartisan, outrage over the practice and two bills were introduced addressing the issue, one in the Senate and one in the House. Though both bills raise the minimum marriage age to eighteen, Senate Bill 198 (SB 198) permits no exceptions, while HB 511 allows one key exception.
HB 511, currently being considered by Governor John Kasich, will permit 17-year-olds to legally marry after a fourteen day waiting period if a judge consents to the marriage and their partner is within four years of age.
While there has been bipartisan support for the bill’s passage, this loophole has led to some criticism.
Unchained At Last, a prominent public organization advocating for the end of all forms of coerced and underage marriage, has publicly called for Governor Kasich to veto the bill. They are concerned that any exception, no matter how seemingly benign, could be used to exploit minors. The organization operates nationwide.
In America, 48 out of 50 states permit citizens over the age of eighteen to marry minors. In 2018, Delaware and New Jersey became the only two states in America to set the legal age of marriage at eighteen with no exceptions. While similar legislation generally garners widespread support and high favorability polling, there is still significant pushback.
In 2017, then-Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey vetoed a similar bill, banning all marriage under the age of eighteen, stating; “An exclusion without exceptions would violate the cultures and traditions of some communities in New Jersey based on religious traditions.”
In 2002, 14-year-old, pregnant, Tessi Wright married 48-year-old Richard E. Siders. in a 2017 interview, she stated that she did not regret the marriage, yet would not want her children to get married under the age of 18 noting:
Yes, some get pregnant before 18 but if the father truly loves her, he will wait the years to marry her.
In 2012, The Boston University Law Review revealed that over eighty percent of mid-adolescent marriages end in divorce. In addition, it was revealed that a majority of women, who are disproportionately affected by the practice, experience depression as a result of the marriage.
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Andrew Shirley is a reporter at Battleground State News and The Ohio Star. Send tips to [email protected].