Hundreds of Utah kids 17 or younger have married in the past 20 years. A Salt Lake City legislator wants to end that.
Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune
Representative Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake City) speaks outside the Utah State Capitol during the 5th annual SlutWalk Walk of No Shame Saturday September 24, 2016. The annual SlutWalk is a march against sexual assault, victim blaming, slut shaming, and rape culture- with millions of participants in thousands of cities around the globe. The Walk of No Shame aims to strike down the ideas that survivors of sexual assault or violence somehow deserved it, or that anyone is inviting this behavior. By dismantling this idea, and the culture that surrounds it, we hope to see better access to help for survivors, better reporting methods, and less stigma around reporting these crimes.
Candice Van Sickle thinks her marriage would have lasted had she and her husband not married at the age of 16.
“I just wanted to get out of the house and so did he,” Van Sickle said. “We just thought, if you got married, you can pretty much do what you want.”
Under a proposal by Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, such teen marriages would be prohibited. Romero wants to raise the minimum age for matrimony to 18.
“My concern is about protecting young women and equality and making sure someone is choosing marriage and they aren’t just being coerced,” Romero said.
Romero has not yet drafted the bill, which would have to be considered when the Legislature meets in 2019. But she said it would ban marriage for anyone younger than 18 unless they go through the process of a court-ordered emancipation.
Romero’s proposal comes at a time when there is a nationwide movement to raise the marriage age to 18. Advocates of the change see it as a way to prevent parents and predators from pushing girls into abusive marriages.
On Wednesday, Romero cited concern for the well-being of teen girls and research suggesting teenagers aren’t yet capable of making such important decisions as getting married.
Under Utah law, a 15-year-old may marry with the consent of a parent or guardian and the permission of a Utah juvenile court judge. A state court website
says the judge “must conclude that the marriage is voluntary and in the best interests of the minor.”
At age 16 or 17, a Utahn can marry with the consent of a parent or guardian.
Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature made forced marriage a form of sexual abuse
. The bill was meant to address concerns that polygamous groups pressure or coerce teens into marriage — legal or plural.
A Salt Lake Tribune review of marriage records from some Utah counties show that polygamists comprise only a fraction of teenage marriages.
In Salt Lake County, for example, there were 45 marriages in which the bride or groom was 17 or younger, according to data from the county clerk’s office from Feb. 1, 2016, to April 10 of this year. Only four of those appear to be couples from polygamous groups, according to a Salt Lake Tribune review of who officiated the wedding.
In Emery County, The Tribune found three marriages in the past 21 years in which the bride or groom appear to belong to a polygamous group. The newspaper found another 29 marriages with wedding certificates in which LDS bishops or stake presidents, pastors and mayors sign as officiants.
About three-fifths of Utahns belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church has no official policy on when members should marry, though from time to time, some general authorities in speeches or articles have encouraged young people to not delay matrimony
Teens — of all faiths — ages 15, 16 and 17 continue to marry in Utah. Davis County had a total of 426 marriages from 1997 through 2017 in which the bride was 17 or younger, according to county clerk records.
Box Elder County had 184 such marriages from 1997 through 2010, according to the clerk there. The brides’ median age was 17; the grooms’ was 19.
Van Sickle supports raising the age for marriage due to her own experience. Van Sickle and her now ex-husband were 16 years old, living in Ferron in 2000 when they planned for her to get pregnant. Both sets of parents were divorcing, she said, and she and her boyfriend wanted to be on their own together.
By having a baby, Van Sickle and her boyfriend figured, they could persuade their parents into letting them marry.
Once she was pregnant, an LDS bishop advised her and her boyfriend against getting married, Van Sickle said. They ignored the advice. The wedding certificate shows the parents signed as witnesses. Van Sickle’s uncle officiated the ceremony.
The couple eventually had four children before filing for divorce in 2014.
“I feel for sure it would have worked if we would have waited,” Van Sickle said. “We were both very immature and we didn’t know how to treat each other.”
Her oldest child is 17. Van Sickle says she has always told him to wait until he’s an adult to marry.
“When you’re young, you don’t know as much as you think you know,” Van Sickle said.