Legislation would ban all child marriages in state


DOVER — A bill filed Tuesday would prevent anyone under the age of 18 from getting married in Delaware, making the First State the only state to completely ban all marriages involving minors.

Current state law requires individuals to be at least 18 to get married unless an exception is granted by a Family Court judge.

A judge’s decision is based on “the best interests of the minor seeking to be married; the wishes of the minor and such minor’s parents or legal guardians; the mental and physical health of the individuals to be married; the criminal history of the individuals seeking to be married; whether the proposed marriage would violate any Delaware laws; and such other information which the Court deems appropriate.”

House Bill 337 would remove that provision, preventing anyone younger than 18 from getting married, full stop.

Current marriages where at least one of the partners is underage or got married as a minor and the couple did not confirm their marriage once both spouses were at least 18 would be annulled.

“Marriage is a big deal, and I don’t see the need for anybody marrying under the age of 18. If you look nationally with human trafficking, it’s really come to light,” said Rep. Kim Williams, a Newport Democrat who is the main sponsor.

Kim Williams

The bill has Republican and Democratic cosponsors and Rep. Williams is hopeful it will pass with little objection.

The General Assembly set the minimum age to 18 for males and 16 for females in 1921, although parental permission was required for females younger than 18 and males younger than 21. Legislators made changes over the year, most recently in 2007, when they passed the current law.

The measure would not affect the age of consent. Delaware law allows individuals older than 11 but younger than 16 to have sex with someone no more than 4 years older. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds cannot have sex with anyone older than 29 unless they are married. The bill would eliminate that exemption for marriage.

According to Unchained At Last, a group that fights child marriage, 200 Delaware minors were married between 2000 and 2010. The youngest of them was 14, statistics from the organization state.

A May report from the Pew Charitable Trusts says Delaware clerks of the peace received about 60 marriage requests involving minors per year before the 2007 change. Just 16 have been submitted since, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Virginia and Texas prohibit those under 18 from getting married unless they are emancipated. The Florida Legislature passed a bill last week preventing marriage involving anyone younger than 18 unless they meet certain requirements, including having parental permission. In May, then New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill banning marriage involving minors.

Delaware, the First State, would be the first state to outright prevent minors from marrying.

Although anyone hoping to marry to in Delaware must be at least 18 except in certain circumstances, state law does not spell out a minimum age where judges must reject anyone younger. While it is extremely doubtful a judge would allow, say, an 11-year-old to get married, it is not technically against the law.

Rep. Williams’ bill would prevent that.

The change, she said, is “common sense.”

“It’s a life-changing event. Getting married is very serious business and waiting ‘til 18, when they’re legally able to go into all the other contracts, I think they should just be able to make that decision then,” Rep. Williams said.

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