Idaho House votes down bill to end child marriage

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

The Idaho House killed a bill last week that would have raised the minimum age to get married in Idaho to 16 years old and required parental consent for those age 16 and 17 to be wed.

Rep. Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise) created the legislation with the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, a group seeking to end violence against women and girls. The bill was meant to line up marriage laws with existing statutory rape and child protection laws in Idaho.

Wintrow said her “primary goal with this legislation is to help defend children who are in harm’s way,” and that setting the marriage age at 16 and requiring parent consent would “provide another step of security for children in Idaho.”

The bill failed in the House with a 39-28 vote.

“Unfortunately, many legislators showed that they are not going (to) take children’s safety seriously,” Wintrow said in a statement directly following the House vote on Feb. 28. “The existing law has loopholes that allow for someone to commit rape or statutory rape and not be charged. Refusing to change the law will guarantee that those who are committing illegal activities will suffer no consequences.”

According to Unchained At Last, an organization fighting child marriage in the United States, Idaho has the highest rates of child marriage in the country. Unchained reports 4,080 minors married in Idaho between 2000 and 2010, the youngest being 13 years old.

Opponents of the bill cited government overreach, according to the Idaho Statesman. Rep. Christy Zito (R-Hammett) said Wintrow’s bill would make it harder for a young girl in Idaho to get married than to have an abortion. In Idaho, a girl under 18 can get an abortion with consent from a judge or one parent.

“If we pass this legislation, it will then become easier in the state of Idaho to obtain an abortion at 15 years old than it will to … create a family for a child that has been conceived,” Zito told the Statesman.

Both Sage Dixon (R-Ponderay) and Heather Scott (R-Blanchard) voted against the bill.

“I agree with the premise of the bill, but do have reservations about some of the language,” Dixon said. “Specifically, the final sentence that stipulates ‘Further, where the person to be married is the age of sixteen (16) years or seventeen (17) years, a marriage license may be issued only if the other party to the marriage is less than three (3) years older than the minor party,’ and the additional requirement of a judge’s ruling for those under 18. We already have in statute the requirement for those 16 and under to gain both parental, and judicial, approval before a marriage license would be issued, so this does not affect anyone under the age of 16.”

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