A bill to ban marriage for anyone under 18 in Utah is introduced in the legislature

Posted at 5:53 PM, Feb 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-10 22:07:01-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A bill to ban marriage for anyone under the age of 18 in Utah has been introduced in the legislature.

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, has introduced House Bill 234 that implements an all-out prohibition on marriage for anyone under the age of legal adulthood.

"Full stop. No exceptions," she told FOX 13.

Asked why, she replied: "I just look at it from a gender equity lens and I want to ensure we are protecting young women."

Currently, Utah law allows someone to get married at 15 with permission from parents and a juvenile court judge. At 16 or 17, marriages can take place with parental permission only.

FOX 13 first reported on Rep. Romero's legislation when she disclosed it in an interview last year, arguing it helps protect children from sexual abuse or duress. Marriage records show that in 2010, out of the 23,610 marriages that year 253 involved minors. From 2007-2010, 218 grooms were under 18 and 1,167 brides were. In that same time period, 14 girls were 15 years old when they married (the average age for the groom was 19, with one being 22).

So far, faith groups have not weighed in. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City have taken no position on the bill.

"It is the right of the guardian to restrict the permissible. Which means, it is the right of the girl’s or the boy’s guardian to not permit underage marriage," said the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake in a statement to FOX 13. "The restriction of the permissible by the authorities is a genuine right. No one has the right to permit what is haraam or prohibit what is halal, but it is permissible for the guardian to restrict the permissible if he sees that it is in the best interest of the society."

Child marriages have been the subject of legislation and litigation in Utah, usually targeting polygamous communities. Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs and some of his followers have been convicted in Utah and other states for crimes related to underage marriages.

Last year, a law banning polygamous marriages for anyone under 18 went into effect in Utah. But many fundamentalist Mormon communities that FOX 13 has spoken with insist they do not marry anyone under 18.

"We are not doing plural marriages under the age of 18. But we might do an occasional single marriage for someone under 18," the Apostolic United Brethren church said last year. "However, that requires legal parental approval. We don't do that very often, if at all any more."

Rep. Romero said her bill isn't targeting polygamy. Other states are considering similar bills (Delaware raised its marriage age to 18 last year).

"It’s about young women in general and making sure they have the opportunity to be young women," she said.