HARRISBURG >> State Rep. Perry Warren, D-Bucks, said legislation that would prohibit child marriage in Pennsylvania before the age of 18 was approved by the House Judiciary Committee today and can now be considered by the full House.
Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford/Fulton/Franklin, and Warren are the bill’s co-prime sponsors.
“This bill is about child protection. Studies have shown that a child often does not have the capacity to make a decision to marry before 18, and a child under 18 does not have the legal rights of an adult,” Warren said.
Warren added that child marriages are often coercive and exploitative and increase the risk of domestic violence while undermining the child’s long-term educational, health and economic opportunities.
Under current Pennsylvania law, a marriage license may be issued to an applicant younger than 16 with court approval. A marriage license also may be issued where an applicant is older than 16 but younger than 18 with the consent of a parent or guardian.
The Warren/Topper bill (H.B. 360) would repeal those exceptions and set the minimum age at which a marriage license may be issued to 18.
Warren said the issue of child marriage was brought to his attention in 2017 by two constituents, including Newtown Borough Councilor Tara Grunde-McLaughlin.
“When I speak about this bill,” Warren said, “invariably someone asks, ‘Child marriage – is that a thing?’ It is, and it is time to set the age at 18 to protect children in Pennsylvania.”
Laws in 27 states do not specify an age below which a child cannot marry. Pennsylvania is one of these states. Marriage license data from 2000 to 2010 reveals that in 38 states, more than 167,000 children were married – almost all of them girls, some as young as 12 – to spouses 18 or older.
If the bill is passed and signed into law, Pennsylvania will be the third state to ban child marriage. Delaware and New Jersey passed similar laws in 2018.