By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
September 30, 2021
Because the Christian Action League temporarily closed its office when Rev. Mark Creech, executive director, contracted COVID, some good news went unreported. On Wednesday, August 26, Governor Roy Cooper signed S.B. 35 – Max 4-Yr Age Difference to Marry Under 18 Yrs.
The Governor said in an open statement: “This legislation is an important step toward ending child marriage in North Carolina and instituting more protections for children. While it falls short of raising the age of marriage to 18, it will make a safer place for children.”
According to various media reports, Governor Cooper and lawmakers who advocated for S.B. 35 met privately with him on the day he signed the measure. Others who had been married as minors were also included in the group.
State law allows any person over 18 years of age to marry. Previously, a 16 or 17-year-old could also marry in North Carolina with a parent or guardian’s written consent. Minors 14 or 15-years-old could marry too, but no one under the age of 14 was allowed to wed.
S.B. 35, which is now law, raised the legal age to marry from 14 to 16. The law now says anyone over 16 and under 18 is allowed to wed, but may only do so if they marry someone no more than four years older. Plus, the couple must have filed a certified copy of an order issued by a district judge allowing for the marriage.
In the legislation’s original form, no one under the age of 18 could marry.
The impetus behind the initiative was child marriage had made North Carolina a hot spot for human trafficking. Various advocacy groups argued that when minors marry, there is a greater risk for sexual and domestic violence, medical and mental health problems, and poverty.
But the primary sponsors of S.B. 35, Senators Vicki Sawyer (R-Iredell), Danny Britt (R-Columbus), and Valerie Foushee (D- Chatham), said they received significant pushback from colleagues not to end the opportunity to marry under 18 years old. So, proponents presented a Proposed Committee Substitute (PCS), which contained the language that ultimately passed the General Assembly and the Governor signed.
Rev. Creech said that the Christian Action League was opposed to the original proposal, but would later lobby for the PCS. Creech said:
“I shared with lawmakers that my own parents had come from terribly dysfunctional homes, where there was domestic violence and alcohol abuse. So, they eloped to Dillon, South Carolina, where a minor could be married. My father (19), who was in the Coast Guard, and my mother (15), were not wed in conditions that offered much promise of success, but they did have an opportunity for a better life, which they wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’m delighted they had the option to marry, although my mother was a minor.
“I wanted lawmakers to see that there was a flip-side to the coin to what some of the advocacy groups were saying.
“Think of it. Because my parents had the option, I had both parents in my life from infancy. My mother birthed me when she was a mere 17 – again, not ideal circumstances. Nevertheless, it was preferable, I believe, to today’s most common decision in such cases – an abortion – or a single mother with no father present to help the mother. My parents made a good life for themselves, and they were incredible parents.
“I explained to the lawmakers with whom I spoke, S.B. 35 was not a perfect bill, but it did provide an alternative that, with appropriate constraints, could positively work in favor of a couple where one or both were minors, as well as work in favor of their child. Keeping the option available for a minor to marry protects freedom and rejects a cookie-cutter standard being imposed on every couple.
“I’m thankful, and I think I speak for most supporters of the League when I say the Governor was right to sign this bill.”
The Christian Action League last reported on S.B. 35 on August 12, which at that time had passed the state Senate unanimously on August 11.
“I’m sorry, it was because of unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances we haven’t reported on the bill becoming law before now,” said Creech. “But I suspect there are a lot of our supporters who still don’t know about it and would be happy to hear what’s transpired since our last report.”