Why Virginia's Legislature Just Passed a Bill to Ban Child Marriage

In the first week of March, 2016, Virginia banned child marriage completely. Why? Here's how journalist Libby Nelson describes it at Vox:
"Children as young as 13 can get married in Virginia, if the girl is pregnant or the couple has parental permission. And since 2004, thousands of teenagers have gotten married in the state, including more than 200 who were 15 or younger. Nearly all of those married children were girls.
The Virginia legislature just changed that, voting in favor of a bill that would require a judge's approval for anyone under age 18 to marry and forbidding marriage for teenagers under 16. It now goes to the governor's desk. While allowing children to marry might seem barbaric and backward, Virginia is far from alone. Most states still allow children to marry if there's a pregnancy involved, or with the consent of their parents and a judge.
Advocacy groups argue that allowing younger teenagers to marry is a terrible idea - parents might be not just consenting but forcing their children to marry. Judges in New York, at least, have approved marriages where the age differences between the partners would otherwise lead to an investigation of charges of statutory rape. It's illegal in New York for an adult to have sex with someone under 16, even if the sex is consensual. Judges still allowed teenagers younger than 16 to marry adults, Fraidy Reiss, the director of the nonprofit Unchained at Last, wrote in a New York Times op-ed in 2015: 'In 2011 alone, a 14-year-old married a 26-year-old, a 15-year-old was wed to a 28-year-old, another 15-year-old was wed to a 25-year-old and a 15-year-old married someone age '35 to 39.' All of those marriages were approved by New York judges.' Virginia might not be the last state to toughen its child marriage laws. Maryland and New York are considering similar bills."

Everything a state does must work for the best interests of the child, as set out at Tracing the Foundations of the Best Interest of the Child Standard in American Jurisprudence.  Family restoration requires protecting children from adults who may prey on them in underage marriage.


  1. Katherine Thomas (2L)April 13, 2016 at 9:10 PM

    Personally, I think this bill is fantastic and long over due. Having been the reluctant teen who did not want to listen to my parents and did my own thing, I will say from experience, a teenager who thinks that he or she knows it all is dead wrong. In the case of these teenage marriages, just because he or she may think they are in love or that nuptials is the only way to handle a situation, marriage is not the answer. Statistically speaking these child marriages will have a more likelihood of ending in divorce. Additionally, other residual effects are more likely to occur, such as one or both partners will have to drop out of school to maintain the family thereby eliminating opportunities that could be afforded through education. Limited education will lessen opportunities for better employment and subsequently, according to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3000061/), these child brides will be 31 percent more likely to live in poverty. Sure marriage may seem like a good idea for the moment, but the sad truth is, the odds are severely against them.

  2. Based on the facts that underlie underage marriage in Virginia including younger girls marrying older men even if they were pregnant or had parental consent. The old law made it too easy for older men to marry underage girls who were either to naïve or scared to refuse such a union between a man and a woman. The House Bill is more of a preventive measure that allows experienced judges to approve or disapprove these underage marriages. The old law in Virginia was that anybody under the age of 18 either had to get parental consent to marry or the girl had to be pregnant. The statistics show that this law facilitated a majority influx of young girls being coerced into marriage by older men. The House Bill will give the judge the power to examine all of the circumstances on a case by case basis in order to have the ultimate final say in the marriage of underage people. I would encourage the Governor to sign the Bill because by doing so the state could prevent older men from coercing young girls to marry them like the statistics show under the old law. What strikes me particularly about the New York statute is that it declares sex with anyone under the age of 16 is illegal however the state allows for marriages of children under the age of 16. The New York statute declares anyone who has sex with a child under the age of 16 has committed statutory rape even if it was consensual. Like New York, Virginia has its hands full with this one, however I do believe that this Bill should be signed into law by the Governor of Virginia with states like New York to follow.