Kentucky has advanced a bill that would ban marriage for those under 17 and give judges discretion to assess if a 17-year-old is being coerced into marriage — potentially safeguarding against forced child marriages.
The state Senate passed the bill, SB 48, on Wednesday by a vote of 34-3. Senator Dan Seum, a Louisville Republican, was one of the three to vote against the bill, saying that it would prevent pregnant girls from marrying.
“I as a parent couldn’t let my pregnant 16-year-old daughter marry the guy that loves her, give the baby a name?” he asked.
SB 48, also known as the child bride bill, sets the legal age for marriage at 18 and would require a judge to approve a marriage for a 17-year-old by assessing if the individual is being coerced into marriage. No one under 17 can marry under the bill.
The Louisville Courier Journal reports:
Current law allows those 16 or 17 to marry with a parent’s permission and allows individuals under 16 to marry with a judge’s approval if one of the parties is pregnant.
Under the bill, a family or district court judge may not approve the marriage in cases where the age difference is more than four years between the 17-year-old and the other party.
The judge also must consider why the 17-year-old seeks to marry, his or her maturity and whether the person has completed high school or a GED.
The judge also must consider any criminal records of either party and any history of domestic violence or sex offenses. SB 48 also calls for the judge to question the 17-year-old privately to ensure the teen is not being pressured into marriage.
Pregnancy of the underage party is not sufficient evidence to approve a marriage, according to the bill.
The vote on the bill had been delayed earlier this week due to opposition from the conservative Kentucky Family Foundation.
However, the group dropped its objection to SB 48 after a revision that would allow parents of the underage party to voice their opinion to the judge when the court considers if a 17-year-old should be allowed to marry.
Kentucky has the third-highest rate of child marriages in the United States, and supporters of the bill say that too often underage brides are sexually exploited by their husbands who are significantly older.
SB 48 now heads to the state House where top lawmakers hope it will pass and be signed into law.
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