Missouri marriage laws criticized for being lenient
JEFFERSON CITY – State lawmakers are scheduled to vote on a marriage bill that has drawn national attention to child brides.
After passing on a 95 to 50 vote in the House, House Bill 1630 will move to the Senate in early May.
“As more states continue to raise their marriage age, I think it’s important that we set that age so that we don’t become a tourist attraction for people who have bad intentions for young women,” said Rep. Jean Evans, R-Manchester, the bill’s sponsor.
According to Evans, research has shown border cities and those with airports are the most highly-concentrated areas for child marriages. She said Kansas City, St. Louis and the bootheel of the state receive the most marriage license filings.
“People are flying in or driving across I-70 to get to Missouri so they can get married at a young age,” Evans said.
Currently, Missouri requires one parent’s signature for their 15-year-old to marry, regardless of how the other parent feels. Judges must approve marriages for children under the age of 15.
The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence is one of several groups that testified on the Senate floor in favor of the bill.
“We believe that this will be helpful, not only for victims of trafficking, but also help victims of domestic violence,” public policy director Jennifer Carter Dochler said.
Coalition witnesses shed light on the dangerous circumstances that child brides could be in.
“When individuals have been married at a younger age they typically have a harder time finishing their education, they sometimes have more children, they just end up having more barriers long-term,” Dochler said.
Dochler said a lot of victims are forced into marrying their abusers and the state’s marriage age restriction should coincide with the statutory rape laws.
“Since 17 is the age of consent, I think that would be a good line to go by,” Evans said.
Evans said there are differing ideas of what the minimum age should be, with some parties thinking nine years old is appropriate. HB 1630 lowered the minimum age, making it more appealing to some lawmakers, and one step toward stricter laws for others.
Dochler said, “We think this is a fair compromise.”
If the bill passes in the Senate, the governor will need to sign it into law.