The so-called “Child Bride” bill passed the Kentucky state Senate 34-3 Wednesday. It will now move onto the House.
The bill makes 18 the legal age of marriage in Kentucky. Judges would be able to grant exceptions to 17-year-old petitioners in certain circumstances, but the bill prohibits marriage for anyone younger.
The only votes against the measure came from three Republicans — Sen. Albert Robinson, from London, Sen. John Schickel, from Union, and Sen. Dan Seum, from Fairdale.
Kentucky’s current statute allows children aged 16 and 17 to marry with parental consent. Children younger than that can get married if the girl is pregnant. There is no lower age limit.
An investigation from the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting found nearly 11,000 minors were married in Kentucky over the last 17 years. Some were as young as 13 years old.
The bill, SB 48, which was originally proposed by state Sen. Julie Raque Adams, specifies that pregnancy is no longer a reason for a judge to grant a marriage. Child welfare advocates say that a juvenile pregnancy is often a sign that statutory rape has occurred — not a reason to grant a marriage.
The Kentucky Family Foundation, a conservative advocacy organization, protested the original version of the bill because it excluded parents from the decision-making process when a 17-year-old petitioned to wed. The version that passed the Senate allows parents to submit an affidavit to the judge considering the case.
After the unanimous vote of support in committee, Jeanne Smoot, senior counsel at the Tahirih Justice Center, an advocacy group opposing child marriage, called on legislators to pass the bill and raise the legal age of marriage in Kentucky.
“With such a law in place, Kentucky would have one of the strongest measures in the nation to combat the harms of child marriage,” Smoot said.