The first hurdle in enacting a ban on the marriage of 15-year-olds in Utah has cleared its first major hurdle. A bill sponsored by Democrat Representative Angela Romero has received an outpouring of support from women who were once members of polygamous groups. Romero, who has made revised the bill somewhat from its original provisions, says that marriages of people under the age of 18 are “associated with higher rates of divorce and lower levels of education.” The bill won unanimous approval by lawmakers in February and advanced on to the full House.
Originally, Representative Romero sought to ban marriage under 18 altogether. She later agreed to amend the bill for older teenagers, provided a judge is involved and extends permission for the union. Under the current Utah law, only a parent’s consent is required in order for the marriage of a 16- or 17-year-old. Romero, who says “a child should be a child,” says that she plans to add a provision to her bill that bans marriages with age gaps greater than seven years.
Supporters of the bill include LuAnn Cooper. Cooper was born into a polygamous group, and she married at 15, believing that “God wanted” her to marry. She ultimately left the group, and now she says that teenagers are too young to marry. According to Cooper, a teenager is not old enough to enter into a legal contract, and they can’t buy a car, so they should not be allowed to enter into a marital union, either.
Another supporter, Heidi Clark, says that she got married at age 17 after becoming pregnant and feeling pressured by her boyfriend’s church to tie the knot. Clark says she went on to endure abuse but felt pressured to staying with her husband because she had married at such a young age. She wishes now that she had seen “the truth” and waited.
Utah is not alone in its efforts to raise the age limit for marriage. Laws in 14 states have changed in recent years to limit or end the practice of underage marriage, and more are planning to introduce legislation this year. Data suggest that more than 200,000 people under age 18 were married in the United States between the years 2000 and 2015. Most of those marrying early in life are girls marrying adult men. The same holds true in Utah, according to 2010 figures from the Utah Health Department, which is the most recent data available. That year, 253 people under age 18 were married in the state, most of the girls.
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