Ohio lawmakers have prioritized a list of bills they’d like to see hurried through the legislature in the lame-duck session that ends in December, and one of the most likely to pass is a ban on child marriage.
With a list that includes abortion, gun laws and criminal-sentencing reform, one of the least-controversial matters may be tinkering with Ohio’s marriage laws.
The bill likely to pass is more of a soft ban than a hard ban, however, meaning there will still be exceptions under which 17-year-olds can tie the knot.
But current Ohio law is much more lenient. It requires brides to be at least 16 and grooms to be at least 18, but exceptions are made for younger, pregnant teens if they have parental consent and juvenile court approval. Some have been as young as 14 when they say “I do.”
House Bill 511 would change that, adding Ohio to the list of states that ban marriage for most or all of those under 18. The bill has bipartisan support, with 19 Republicans and 16 Democrats signed on as co-sponsors.
Earlier this year, Delaware and New Jersey became the first states to enact a hard ban on all marriages where both the bride and groom are not at least 18.
Ohio’s bill would not be that strict, as it would allow 17-year-olds to marry if he or she obtains juvenile court consent and the partner is not more than four years older. A 17-year-old bride or groom would also face a 14-day waiting period under HB 511.
There is a companion bill in the State Senate called SB 198.
The age at which people get married in America has been steadily rising over the past 100 years. In 2017 the nationwide average age at which women got married was 27.4. For men it was 29.5.
A 2013 study of marriage by age in every state found the average age of a first-time bride in Ohio was 26.3 years old, which ranked 32nd among the 50 states and Washington, D.C. Ranked number-one on the list was Idaho, where the average age of a first time bride was 23.2 followed by Utah at 23.3 and Wyoming at 24.2.
The Ohio Women’s Public Policy Network was one of several groups to provide testimony in favor of HB 511 before the House Community and Family Advancement Committee in March.
The policy network called Ohio’s current marriage laws “antiquated.”
“The law on the books in Ohio currently requires only that boys must be 18 to marry, while girls can marry as early as age 16. That’s sexist and must change,” the organization states on its website.
The network further states:
What’s even more disturbing, however, is that Ohio law permits girls under 16, with no established minimum, to marry if they are pregnant and have parental approval. This leads to situations in which many girls, already facing an unwanted pregnancy, are pressured to marry the adult men who impregnate them out of a desire to make the birth ‘legitimate.’ In fact, ‘parents’ rights’ groups were the main opposition to similar legislation that was later amended and passed in the Kentucky legislature.
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Anthony Accardi is a writer and reporter for The Ohio Star.