Wyoming is one of eight states with no minimum marriage age.
Some in the Wyoming Legislature are trying to change that with House Bill 7. If it becomes law, the bill would forbid people younger than 16 from marrying altogether, and would require a guardian’s permission for minors ages 16 and 17.
The act would void all marriages of people younger than 16 occurring after July 1, 2023, but would not affect marriages secured before that date.
States’ Rights Issue
Bill sponsor Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, told the House Revenue Committee on Tuesday that the current law recommends people be 16 or older to marry, but it allows judges to approve marriages for people younger than that.
Zwonitzer said the nation recognizes the rights of states to regulate marriage.
He also said HB 7 came before the Legislature and failed about three years ago when protesters disputed it as a violation of religious freedom.
“There are, as I think we all know, some religious sects who don’t believe the government should be involved in marriage, in setting the marriage age,” said Zwonitzer.
As a result, he said he softened the bill from its prior form which forbade anyone younger than 18 from marrying to now include the new exceptions for 16- and 17-year-olds.
OK With Stronger Bill
On the other hand, he added, “there are national groups out there who are certainly pushing the issue of marriage at 18, no exceptions.”
Zwonitzer said that if the committee wants to amend the bill to set a no-exception minimum of 18, he would be fine with that too.
But the committee did not amend the bill; rather, it advanced it to the House in its original form on a 6-3 vote.
Those voting in favor were Zwonitzer and his bill co-sponsor Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton; along with Reps. Andrew Byron, R-Jackson; David Northrup, R-Powell; Liz Storer, D-Jackson; and committee Chairman Steve Harshman, R-Casper.
Those voting against the bill were Reps. John Bear, R-Gillette; Tony Locke, R-Casper; and Tomi Strock, R-Douglas.
About 20 Per Year
Guy Beaudoin, of the Wyoming Department of Health vital statistics services, told the committee that for the past 11 years, there are an average 4,200 marriages licensed annually in Wyoming. Of those, a rough average of 20 per year involve minors.
Beaudoin said under the proposed law, it would not be difficult for the department to issue new guidance to Wyoming county clerks on issuing marriage licenses.
‘We Don’t Know How To Do Our Taxes’
A 16-year-old girl told the committee that teens aren’t mature enough to marry.
Kinsley Merritt, of Cody High School, testified that the minimum age should be changed to 18, not 16.
“Most of us teenagers, we’re not mature enough, we don’t know how to do our taxes,” she said. “We’re not able to get tattoos and piercings.”
Merritt said marriage capability isn’t “quite appropriate for our age,” adding that, “we’re not mentally mature enough and mentally stable enough.”