Politics

Kentucky is one step closer to banning child marriage. The “child bride” bill, which makes 18 the legal age of marriage in Kentucky, passed the House unanimously Friday.

The bill previously passed the state Senate with only three dissenting votes. It goes now to Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk for a signature.

Under SB48, judges can grant marriages to 17-year-olds when they determine it is in the minor’s best interest. The minor would have to demonstrate independence and maturity and their partner can’t be more than four years older. While parents can weigh in, judges make the final decision.

No one under the age of 17 will be allowed to wed for any reason.

The current state statute allows 16- and 17-year-olds to get married with parental permission. Children younger than 16 can get married as long as they are pregnant. There is no lower age limit.

That law has allowed more than 11,000 minors to get married in the last 17 years, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting found. Kentucky has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the country.

Other states have tried to pass similar laws in recent years, with mixed results. Virginia and Texas recently raised the age to marry to 18, or 16 if the child is emancipated. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar measure, citing religious freedom.

In Kentucky, the original bill proposed by state Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Republican from Louisville, ran into opposition from the Kentucky Family Foundation. The conservative advocacy organization wanted parents to have a voice in the process when a 17-year-old petitions a judge to wed. The version that passed the legislature allows parents to submit an affidavit to the judge considering the case.

Eleanor Klibanoff covered Rust Belt decline and revival in Pennsylvania. She also worked for NPR and attended the George Washington University.