First State In The South Bans Child Marriage

Virginia banned marriage before age 18 after legislators sent a bill to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk, NPR reports

This bill makes it the 12th state with laws on the books that prohibit the marriage of minors, with no exceptions.

The bill knocks out loopholes that allowed some exemptions after the state previously passed restrictions in 2016.

At the time, lawmakers didn’t have enough votes to fully ban child marriage, and compromised by carving out a rule that allowed 16-year-olds to marry if signed off by a judge that emancipated them.

Per VPM, the advocacy group Unchained at Last estimates that 8,000 minors in the state were married from 2000 to 2018 (and nearly 300,000 across the US during the same period).

“I could not speak up then,” Brigitte Combs, who was married at 16, told legislators during hearings on the issue.

“But I can speak now. And I will fight tooth and nail for others who are not able to speak.” Supporters of the bill say minors, who are most often girls, are left vulnerable by the law.

Emancipated teens face other age-based restrictions (they cannot vote or drink alcohol), and advocates wonder why marriage is not included. NPR notes that teen pregnancy is one reason opponents of the bill, like the religious group Family Foundation, believe the exceptions should remain.

“I could not escape to a domestic violence shelter, because I was a minor,” one woman, who said she was wed at 16 to a 29-year-old man, told VMP.

“I could not hire an attorney or enter into a lease, because I was a minor. I couldn’t even drive, because I wasn’t old enough, and he controlled my entire life.”

Delaware became the first state to ban child marriage in 2018, and Washington was the most recent to sign a ban into law this March.

Among the other states drawing a hard line at 18 are Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

Original article

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