Utah senators gave final approval Tuesday to a bill that raises the state’s minimum marriage age to 16, and requires both parental consent and judicial approval for older teens to marry.
“This state has made very, very heavy statements about marriage and how much we care about marriage,” said Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, the bill’s Senate sponsor. “I think a 15-year old is not ready to make that commitment.”
Current state law sets 15 as the minimum marriage age with judicial approval, and only a parent’s consent required at age 16 and 17. The bill originally would have banned all underage marriage, but sponsor Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, agreed to a more incremental approach while telling reporters she intends to run additional legislation in the future raising the marriage age.
The bill also imposes a seven-year maximum age gap between a child and their prospective spouse.
In the Senate, Logan Republican Sen. Lyle Hillyard voted for the bill, but suggested a pregnant 15-year old who wants to get married could leave leave Utah for other states with a younger minimum age. He also said prohibiting marriages could lead couples to never marry and experience complications regarding alimony, insurance and other spousal rights.
“I’m really concerned if you make it impossible to get married, people will live together,” he said.
Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, spoke in favor of the bill. She said she couldn’t imagine her own 15-year-old daughter making the decision to get married.
“I think this is better public policy than what we currently have,” Henderson said.
The bill will now be sent to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature or veto.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the minimum age of marriage under HB234, which passed the Legislature on Tuesday and is pending approval by the governor.