The Louisiana House has rejected a bill that sought to establish a minimum age to marry in the state, with some conservative lawmakers asserting that many 16-year-olds “are very mature” and that marriage can be a beneficial option for teenagers especially if they are expecting a child.
“We want children to be born into wedlock if possible,” Republican state Rep. Nancy Landry said, according to The Advocate. “We’re discouraging that with this. If they’re both 16 or 15 and having a baby why wouldn’t we want them to get married?”
There’s currently no legal minimum age of marriage in Louisiana. Minors who are 16 or 17 require parental consent to be married, while those under 16 need a judge’s approval.
A bill crafted by Democratic state Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb had aimed to tighten these rules. The legislation had sought to make 16 the minimum legal age of marriage; it also barred 16- and 17-year-olds from marrying anyone more than four years older than they are.
“This is to make sure we don’t have people covering up acts of rape as a marriage,” said Republican state Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, who supported the bill, per The Advocate. “This is a child protection issue.”
Other supporters said the legislation was aimed at protecting children from human traffickers.
According to The Advocate, more than 4,300 minors in Louisiana were married from 2000 to 2010 ― and over 80% of those cases involved young girls marrying adult men.
The state House, however, pushed back against the proposed legislation.
At first, a majority of lawmakers agreed to set the legal minimum marriage age to 17, AP reported ― but following a debate, this idea was struck down.
Republicans in the House extensively rewrote the bill to continue to allow minors under 18 to marry with parental consent. For children under 16, a judicial review process would be required before the marriage is green-lit.
Sam Karlin, reporter for The Advocate, described some of the arguments put forth by the opponents of the original bill.
“I met my husband when I was 14 and he was 15 and if it wasn’t for the belief that we should get a high school diploma before we get married, I would have gotten married at 15,” Karlin quotes Republican state Rep. Beryl Amedee as saying.
Amedee also said the rewritten bill would help “prevent abortion” because some parents would take their children to get abortions if they were barred from marrying.
House lawmakers voted 67-28 for the rewritten legislation, which now heads back to the state Senate.
Some lawmakers who backed the original bill said they voted for the edited version with the hope that they might be able to rework it later in the legislative process, AP said.