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Lawmakers Consider Bill That Raises Marriage Age In Kentucky

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Kentuckians wouldn’t be able to get married until they’re 18 years old, under a bill being considered by the state legislature.

Currently, Kentuckians can get married when they’re 16 if they have permission from their parents. Women can get married at younger ages if they’re pregnant — there is no lower limit.

Donna Pollard got married when she was 16 years old. She said she had trouble finding help after the relationship became abusive.

“I tried to leave more than once,” Pollard told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I tried to seek refuge in a domestic violence shelter and was turned away because I had not yet reached age 18, the age of true adulthood.”

More than 11,000 minors have been married in Kentucky since 2000 — some as young as 13 years old, according to a report by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting last August.

Studies show that minors who get married tend to end up with less education, higher rates of poverty and are more vulnerable to domestic violence.

Senate Bill 48 would raise the marriage age to 18, though 17-year-olds would be able to get married if they get a court order and are getting married to someone no more than four years older.

Jeanne Smoot, with the Tahirih Justice Center, said the bill would be a reprieve for minors pushed into marriage by controlling families and partners.

“The very best way to protect vulnerable children from the many harsh consequences that can come from marrying too young is to prohibit marriage before age 18, no exceptions,” Smoot said.

A 2012 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that minors are more likely to get divorced within 15 years than those who marry later.

Kentucky is one of 25 states that has no minimum age requirement for marriage.

Sen. John Schickel, a Republican from Union, said he was concerned that the bill would take authority away from parents.

“I believe deep in my heart that parents are the ones that should be making these decisions, not the government,” Schickel said.

The bill did not receive a vote on Thursday. The legislature is also considering a measure that would change Kentucky’s age of consent law, making it illegal for 16- and 17-year-olds to have sex with people age 28 or older.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. Email Ryland at rbarton@lpm.org.