Missouri has long been known for being the easiest place in the United States for children as young as 15-years-old to wed. Missouri Governor Mike Parson recently signed Senate Bill 655 into law and ended the practice.
Prior to the signing of the bill, Missouri was one of twenty-five states that had no minimum age for marriage. It was also the only state that allowed 15-year-old children to marry with signed approval of a single parent. Children that were not yet 15 needed to have the approval of a judge.
In his article about the marriage situation in Missouri, Eric Adler writes about the reason why the new law was needed. Because the state was known to be lenient in its marriage laws,
Missouri had become a destination wedding spot for 15-year-old bridges, with 1,000 15-year-olds being wed in the state between 1999 and 2017. Many of them were marrying men age 21 or older, in effect allowing the girls to marry their rapists.
Now, no one age 15 or under is allowed to marry in the state. The minimum legal age is 16. Marriage at 16 and 17 still requires the signed approval of at least one parent. In addition, marriage licenses will not be given to individuals 21 or older intending to marry someone 16 or younger.
The law is meant to protect children from adults that prey on them. “Someone 21 is not going to be allowed to marry someone 15. We are not going to allow adults to legalize what is statutory rape” say Rep. Jean Evans. The bill also “removes the statutes of limitation on prosecutions involving child abuse and unlawful sexual offenses against children.”
With the signing of this bill, Missouri joins a growing list of states that are “adopting stricter child marriage laws.” Other states that have toughened their laws are Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Texas, and New York. Their laws differ a little but generally prohibit anyone under age 18 to marry unless legally emancipated.
I am grateful that lawmakers in the nation are beginning to see the problem with child marriages. I see the problem as being more than simply protecting children from predators. I see it as a need to recognize that marriage is a serious commitment, one that children are not prepared to make and keep. Children of all ages – even pregnant ones – should have the opportunity to enjoy their childhood without taking on the obligations meant for adults.