CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill Wednesday that would prohibit minors from getting married.
The Republican-dominated House passed the bill 84-13, sending it to the state Senate. The regular session ends March 11.
Currently, children can marry as young as 16 in West Virginia with parental consent. Anyone younger than that also must get a judge’s waiver.
The bill would establish that 18 is the age of consent. It removes the ability of a minor to obtain consent through their parents, legal guardians, or by court petition. Existing legal marriages, including those done in other states, are unaffected.
According to the nonprofit group Unchained At Last, which seeks to end forced and child marriage, seven states have set the minimum age for marriage at 18, all since 2018.
From 2015 to 2019, there were marriages involving 259 girls and 52 boys under age 18 in West Virginia. A few of them had been married more than once, according to state health statistics.
Although recent figures are unavailable, according to the Pew Research Center, West Virginia had the highest rate of child marriages among the states in 2014, when its five-year average was 7.1 marriages for every 1,000 children ages 15 to 17.
Harrison County Republican Del. Keith Marple was the lone speaker against the bill Wednesday, saying that he was 18 when he was married. He predicted that teens who want to get married will seek a remedy out of state.
“The only thing it’s going to do is cause harm and trouble in young people’s lives,” Marple said.