JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Legislation establishing a minimum age of marriage in the Show-Me State was in front of the House again on Wednesday and, even, with fewer restrictions, many still saw issues with some of the provisions.
Rep. Jean Evans proposed — and succeeded — in adding an amendment to Sen. Scott Sifton’s SB 655 that is compromise language of HB 1630. The version that was adopted by the House on Wednesday would set the minimum age of marriage in Missouri at 16-years-old and prohibit anyone over the age of 21 from wedding an individual younger than 18-years-old.
Several Representatives stood in objection to the latter provision offering anecdotal stories either own personal experience, their parent’s experience, or experience of friends.
Rep. Don Rone marred his wife when he was 25 years old and she was shy of her 18th birthday.
“If that’s the case, my wife and couldn’t have married. My wife was 17-years-old when I married her…we’ve been married for almost 52 years,” Rone said. “I just wonder where I’d be today with someone else.”
But that wasn’t the only issue many Republicans took with the legislation. Opponents expressed concern that this impedes on folks religious beliefs, particularly Amish communities across the state.
“They feel biblically that it’s better to marry than to burn,” Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch said.
One Representative pointed out that sexual relations between a minor and anyone 21-years-old and over is considered statutory rape under the law.
Supporters of the issue said that this doesn’t prevent anyone from marrying, it just makes them wait until both parties are of age.
Evans’ mother married at 17-years-old and understands that there are love stories out there but “…more often than not they are situations of abuse.”
Cited on the floor was stories of young woman being forced to marry much older men. One example offered was that of a 14-year-old getting off the school bus and being told she was getting married that day. Another story was of a 15-year-old brought in to the state to marry a man convicted of raping her.
“I think it’s time where we need to respect and protect young people,” said Evans.
The version offered as the amendment differs, and is less restrictive, than HB 1630 that the House passed early this session.
The original bill would have required approval from a judge for a minor over the age of 15 seeking to marry. The current version sets the age at 16-years-old and only requires the approval of one parent — which is the current standard.
“We live in new times. We should be coming together and doing what’s best to protect our children,” said Bruce Franks.
The provision was added to SB 655, which was truly agreed and finally passed on Friday, with less than three hours until the end of session. It now needs the governor’s signature to become law.
Alisha Shurr is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University. Contact Alisha at firstname.lastname@example.org.