Emily Rice Published

Bill To Ban Child Marriage Defeated In Senate Judiciary Committee

A woman in an orange shirt speaks with a man wearing a suit and tie during a Senate Judiciary meeting.
Senators Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson and Mike Stuart, R-Kanawha speak during Wednesday's Senate Judiciary Committee meeting.
WV Legislative Photography/Will Price

A bill to keep minors from getting married in West Virginia was defeated Wednesday in a late-night Senate Judiciary Committee meeting.

The committee rejected a vote to report House Bill 3018 to the full Senate by a vote of nine to eight.

As West Virginia law stands, there is no minimum age to marry. Children can marry as young as 16 in West Virginia, with parental consent. Anyone younger than that must get a judge’s waiver.

This legislation would have removed these exceptions and made the age of consent for marriage 18 years old.

Del. Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, was the lead sponsor of the bill. Before the vote, she spoke to the committee, citing statistics from the Pew Research Center showing that West Virginia has the highest rate of child marriage in the country.

Young said, since 2012, seven marriages out of 100 performed in West Virginia involved someone under the age of 18. She also told the committee that 753 marriages involving children have been performed since 2000.

“I know that there are a lot of people who maybe their parents were married as a child or they had a baby when they were under 18,” Young said. “But what this bill sets out to do is to set the legal age of marriage at 18. There are a few reasons for that. The biggest reason is children don’t have the same legal rights as adults do, they can’t sign a contract, they can’t get a lease, they can’t open a bank account, they can’t get a protective order, they can’t file for divorce, because they’re under 18 years old.”

Young also spoke about the negative outcomes of marriage under 18, stating the divorce rate for people under 18 is 80 percent, which is 30 percent higher than the national average for adults.

“The last big problem is that this really undermines our statutory rape laws because right now, the age of consent for sex is 16, the age of marriage is zero. There’s no floor. All the states around us at least have a floor, we don’t have anything,” Young said. “So this would set it at 18. And the data that we’ve seen shows that there have been 41 cases that would have violated our rape laws because one of the children was under the age of 16.”

The committee had no questions for Young. However, before they could move to report the bill to the full Senate floor, Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, made a motion to table the bill.

That motion failed by a narrow vote of 8 in favor and 9 opposed.

The committee then returned to their pending question, of whether to report the bill to the full Senate.

The motion to report House Bill 3018 to the Senate floor failed with Sens. Mike Azinger, Laura Chapman, Mark Hunt, Patrick Martin, Mark Maynard, Patricia Rucker, David Stover, Mike Stuart and Jay Taylor voting against it.

After the bill was rejected, Sen. Mike Woefel, D-Cabell, asked to speak to the committee.

“I just wanted to remind everyone in the room that this is National Women’s Day,” he said.

Young tweeted the following statement after the vote.

“Senate Judiciary voted down HB3018, the bill to end Child Marriage in WV,” she wrote. “They first moved to table the bill without discussion, which failed, so they killed the bill instead. For now, there will be no floor for the age of marriage in WV, endangering our kids.”