Efforts to reform Ohio’s child marriage laws, which currently allow children of any age to marry if they obtain parental and judicial consent, could get tangled up in politics over gay marriage, lawmakers say.
A Dayton Daily News investigation detailed more than 4,400 girls under 18 married in Ohio over the past 15 years, including 59 girls who were 15 or younger. State law sets the marriage age without judicial consent at 16 for girls and 18 for males.
State Rep. Jeff Rezabek, R-Clayton, plans to introduce a bill in early December to address Ohio’s laws that allow children of any age to marry as long as they have parental and judicial consent.
Rezabek wants to steer clear of efforts to remove a provision in state law that prohibits same-sex marriage. He said he believes legislation solely focused on underage marriage has a better chance of passing.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, introduced Senate Bill 198 that would raise the marriage age to 18 for both the bride and groom, allow marriage for 16 and 17-year-olds who obtain judicial and parental consent, and ban marriage for anyone under 16.
Yuko’s bill also removes the same-sex marriage ban language. The bill, introduced in September, has yet to receive a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Grant Stancliff, spokesman for EqualityOhio, said the gay rights group would eventually like the anti-same-sex marriage language wiped out at some point. “It’d be nice to have that language removed but it’s not something we’re putting a lot of effort behind because de facto, LGBTQ people are getting married in Ohio,” he said.
A 5-4 landmark ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2015 invalidated a ban against same-sex marriage approved by Ohio voters in 2004 and made gay marriage legal nationwide.
National groups that advocate for an ending underage marriage say Ohio needs to outlaw any marriage before age 18. Jeanne Smoot, senior counsel for Tahirih Justice Center, said half-measures won’t meaningfully change the status quo.
“Just setting an age floor of 16, for example, will not protect the majority of minors who are married at 16 and 17, and keeping in place a bare-bones judicial approval process will continue to make it easy for the abuse and exploitation of children to slip by undetected,” she said.
By the numbers
248,000: Number of teens 17 or younger married in America between 2000 and 2010.
4,443: Number of girls 17 or younger who were married in Ohio between 2000 and 2015.
301: Number of boys 17 or younger married during that time span.
80: Percentage of marriages involving young teens that end in divorce, according to a national study.
Sources: Ohio Department of Health, Unchained at Last