Is 15 too young to get married?

At fifteen years old, a teenager legally can't buy beer, can't enlist in the US military, or vote; but, in the state of Maryland they can marry.

At fifteen years old, a teenager legally can't buy beer, can't enlist in the US military, or vote; but, in the state of Maryland they can marry.

Between 2000-2015, more than 3,200 children were married, about 85 percent of them to adults, according to Maryland Vital Statistics compiled by Tahirih Justice Center, a sexual assault advocacy non-profit.

Under Maryland law a 16-year-old or 17-year-old needs parental consent, proof of a child or is pregnant in order for a county clerk to grant a marriage license. Fifteen-year-olds need both prerequisites.

Maryland Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard County) and State Senator Will Smith (D-Montgomery County) are trying to change this, again. 

In 2015 she drafted a bill that would bar anyone under 18 from getting married. It died in the House Judiciary because the bill was considered too broad. 

Atterbeary called Smith in 2016, who brought the bill over to the Senate. In hearings, a child bride who was also a sexual assault victim delivered powerful testimony, urging lawmakers to raise the minimum age.

Their message was clear: Raise the legal age of marriage.

Both succeeded in passing their versions of the bills in the Maryland State House and Senate; but, each bill called for a different age cap. The Senate agreed to bump the marriage age to 16; the House to 18.

The clock ran out before lawmakers could vote on a final bill.

Atterbeary and Smith plan to reintroduce the bill in the Fall of 2017, hoping the third time is the charm.

Both lawmakers represent one side of the debate.  We want to hear from you.  Should lawmakers raise the minimum marriage age?  Were you or was someone you know married as a teenager?  Share your stories with us by emailing Special Assignment Unit reporter Whitney Wild at wwild@wusa9.com and producer Eliana Block at eblock@wusa9.com.

 

© 2017 WUSA-TV


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