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State lawmakers approve bill to ban child marriages in Washington

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(The Center Square) – A bill that would ban child marriages in Washington state has cleared the Legislature and been sent to the governor for his consideration.

As proposed, House Bill 1455 would void any future marriage involving a person under age 18.

Currently, 17-year-olds in Washington state can marry with parental consent, and those younger than 17 may wed if authorized by a superior court judge.

The measure was introduced in the 2023 legislative session by state Rep. Monica Jurado Stonier, D-Vancouver, and was unanimously passed by the House but stalled in the Senate last year.

HB 1455 was reintroduced this January and again passed the House, 98-0, then was approved by the Senate, 48-1, late last month with the lone dissenting vote cast by Sen. Jeff Holy, R-Spokane. The measure was delivered on Friday to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office.

On Monday, Inslee spokesman Mike Faulk said the governor “supports the Legislature’s efforts to protect kids from being forced into marriage” but he has not yet been briefed on specifics contained in the bill.

If signed into law, it will take effect in June – 90 days after adjournment of the current session, which is scheduled this Thursday, March 7.

According to a bill summary, between years 2000 and 2018, more than 4,800 minors ages 15 to 17 were married in Washington and 80% of them were girls who wed adult men that on average were four years older. In some instances, parents wanted to marry off their children to avoid paying child support or to get out of a custody battle. Also, sex with a child under age 16 is a criminal offense in Washington except for married couples, so many of the marriages were entered into to avoid prosecution. The vast majority of such marriages ended in divorce, with associated risks of unwanted pregnancies, domestic violence, and homelessness, the summary stated.

“I just think we’ve got to stop the generational trauma from people being forced into lifestyles or marriages that they’re not equipped to take up,” Stonier told The Seattle Times.

No opposition to the bill was voiced during legislative testimony. The measure was supported by the Latino Civic Alliance, the National Coalition to End Child Marriage, King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, Unchained At Last, and the Advocacy Club.

According to Unchained At Last, child marriage remains legal in 40 states and that nearly 300,000 children, some as young as 10, were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018, mostly girls to adult men.

Along with Stonier, HB 1455 was sponsored by fellow House Democrats Liz Berry, Darya Farivar, Julia Reed, Melanie Morgan, My-Linh Thai, Mary Fosse, Gerry Pollet, Nicole Macri, and Jessica Bateman, and Republican Skyler Rude.

A companion bill, Senate Bill 5695, was also introduced in the Senate.