Despite its rocky travels through the Wyoming House of Representatives, a bill forbidding people younger than 16 to marry unanimously passed its first state Senate committee meeting.
Four members of the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee voted in favor of House Bill 7 on Thursday, while a fifth was absent for the vote.
Bill sponsor Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, told the committee he hopes to see the bill deter child trafficking and unsavory marriage situations, such as older men preying upon teenage girls.
Zwonitzer said there is pressure by national groups to forbid marriages for people younger than 18, but Wyoming should allow an exemption for 16- and 17-year-olds to get married because emancipated and homeless youth have contracting rights elsewhere in state law.
For 16- and 17-year-olds who aren’t emancipated or homeless, the bill would require parental consent to get married.
Can Get Pregnant, Can’t Get Married
Jonathan Lange, a pastor in Evanston, testified against the bill, saying it could jeopardize pregnant teens and their unborn children.
A pregnant 15-year-old under the proposed law could not marry her unborn child’s father, said Langue, which also may deprive that child of the chance to be raised by both parents.
Lange said there are people in his congregation who got married at 15 and have been happily married for 50 years.
Lower Quality Of Life
Denise Parrish, of the Zonta Club of Cheyenne, supported the bill. She said minors who marry generally achieve lower levels of education and struggle oftener with poverty and health issues.
“There are so many things people can’t do below the age of 18 and certainly below the age of 16,” said Parrish. “There’s certainly no reason to make the life-changing decision of marriage at that age.”