Wyoming Married Off Hundreds Of Children In The 1970s And ’80s, Data Show

More than 600 minors got married each year in the late 1970s, and now that number is about 16 per year, according to Wyoming Department of Health data dispatched to help lawmakers discern the need for a bill outlawing marriages for younger teens.

Clair McFarland

February 14, 20233 min read

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There were 39 times as many teens marrying in 1978 than in 2022 in Wyoming.   

The Wyoming Department of Health dispatched the figures to lawmakers last week as the state Legislature contemplates outlawing state marriage to teens ages 15 and younger. 

Teens 15 and younger can get married in Wyoming if they have both guardian permission and the special permission of a judge. Teens 16 and 17 need parent permission generally.   

The proposed law, House Bill 7, has cleared the state House of Representatives and its first vote in the state Senate. It was due for the second of three Senate floor votes Monday, but Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, asked for and received a one-day postponement on the vote.   

The Busy Teen Wedding Year  

In Department of Health data spanning from 1978 to recent months, the peak year for underage marriages was 1980. There were 670 teens who married that year. Three of them were 14 years old, 30 were 15, 217 were 16 and 370 were 17.   

13 And Younger  

In only four years since 1978 have people 13 and younger received marriage licenses in Wyoming.  

Those years were 1978, when one person 13 or younger was married; 1979, when there were two; 1987 (one); and 1995 (one).   

Age 14  

There were, however, 20 years in which 14-year-olds married in Wyoming since 1978. The most recent of those was in 2012, when one 14-year-old was married. There have been 37 people married in the state at age 14 overall since 1978.   

The year with the most 14-year-olds wedded was 1979, when there were six.   

Age 15  

The most recent marriage involving a 15-year-old in Wyoming was 2015. It was the first since 2009, when four 15-year-olds were married.   

The numbers tapered off significantly starting in about 1984. Before then, between 22 and 36 people married each year at age 15.   

In 1984 there were 14 people married at 15. The numbers dropped again in 1987, with eight. They continued to dwindle with occasional jumps: to nine in 1994 and nine in 2006, though they never crested the single digits after 1986.   

Age 16  

In every year since 1978, including last year, 16-year-olds have gotten married. There were six in 2022.   

That’s a mere fraction of the figures of the late 1970s and 1980s, with 215 in 1978; 226 in 1979; 217 in 1980 and 148 in 1981.   

The numbers first dropped below 100 in 1985, at 96. They didn’t hit single digits until 2010, when there were six.   

Age 17  

Likewise, 17-year-olds get married every year in Wyoming.   

There were 374 wed in 1978 and 420 in 1980.   

But there were only 10 people that age married last year. So far this year, 2023, there have been four 17-year-olds married.   


The totals of minors’ marriages are in the same descent as individual categories, with 627 minors married altogether in 1978 and 16 in 2022. Though the numbers fluctuated in between those two dates, the pattern of descent has been mostly consistent.   

Debate So Far 

House Bill 7 passed through the House amid rocky debate about whether it erodes parental autonomy and strips away individual liberties.  

It saw less debate on the Senate side, but just as the bill surfaced for its first Senate floor vote, Wyoming Republican Party leadership dispatched a mass email Friday saying the bill has constitutional concerns.  

Linked in the email was an outside analysis indicating that the bill is unfair because it denies to babies of younger teens the ability to be raised by married parents, among other concerns. 

The bill must pass two more Senate votes and the governor’s desk to become law. 

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter