A national advocacy group is promoting legislation in Kentucky that would prevent underage girls from marrying men who are sometimes decades older, the Courier Journal reported.
Kentucky has the third-highest “child marriage” rate in the nation, according to the Tahirih Justice Center, an Arlington, Virginia, women’s advocacy organization that wants to end child marriages. Jeanne L. Smoot, a lawyer with the center, said that traditionally, Texas comes in first and Florida is second. But Texas has updated its laws to limit marriage for adults and Florida is considering a similar law, Smoot said.
On Feb. 15, the Kentucky Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 48, which is intended to reduce child marriages in the state.
Teens in Kentucky can currently marry at age 16 or 17 with a parent’s permission. At age 16, a pregnant teen can marry with permission from a judge, according to the report.
Is this a bad stereotype?
“I’m frankly embarrassed that Kentucky doesn’t have such a law,” Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, a Lexington Republican, told the Courier Journal.
The current law “plays into every negative stereotype about Kentucky,” she added.
Child marriages are often not between two teens, but involve teenage girls who were pressured into marriage by an older man who has coerced them into having sex. The marriage is used to cover up the fact that the man had sex with a minor.
A study by the University of Louisville’s Kent School of Social Work found between 2000 and 2015, age variances were as wide as a “13-year-old girl marrying a 33-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl marrying a 52-year-old man.”
“Pregnancy can be a red flag that a girl has been raped,” according to Smoot. “Teens marrying teens is not the case.”
Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Louisville Republican, sponsored Senate Bill 48, which would raise the legal age for most marriages in Kentucky to 18, the Courier Journal reported.
Are there exceptions?
There are certain cases in which marriages could be approved if the woman is under 18. For example, a district judge could approve it if the female is at least 17-years-old and not more than four years younger than the groom.
If a minor wants to marry an adult, the judge would have to check for child abuse records for the teen and sex-offender records for the adult. Domestic violence records would be researched for both parties. Additionally, the teen’s maturity level would be considered, as well as whether she holds a high school diploma or GED.
The proposed legislation would bar a teen from marrying an adult if the adult has “a position of authority” over the minor, or if it is suspected the adult had sex with a girl that was too young to consent, according to the report.