By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
August 12, 2021
The North Carolina House passed a measure on Wednesday that raises the minimum age for marriage in the state from fourteen to sixteen. The bill, SB 35 – Max 4-Yr Age Diff to Marry Under 18, was in response to concerns that the state’s low marriage requirement had a deleterious effect on young girls and had made the state a place conducive to human trafficking.
Current law allows any person over 18 years of age to marry. A 16 or 17-year-old may marry with a filed written consent by a parent or guardian. A 14 or 15-year-old may marry under certain circumstances, and no one under 14 is allowed to marry.
SB 35 raises the legal age to marry from 14 to age 16. It also says that anyone over 16 and under 18 may marry, but may only wed someone no more than four years older. Plus, the couple must have a filed certified copy of an order issued by a district judge allowing for the marriage.
The proposal had already passed the Senate. In its original form, the legislation would have required that no one under 18 could marry. But the primary sponsors of the bill, Senators Vicki Sawyer (R-Iredell), Danny Britt (R-Columbus), and Valerie Foushee (D-Chatham), said there was pushback from their colleagues not to close the opportunity to marry under 18 altogether. So a Proposed Committee Substitute (PCS) of the bill was presented and passed, which allowed marriage under 18, but under the much stricter conditions previously mentioned.
When the PCS was taken up before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, told Senate members that he thought the option to marry under 18 still needed to remain available.
Creech drew attention to his own parents as an example, arguing:
“Both my mother and father grew up in very dysfunctional families, where domestic violence, abuse, and addiction issues were prevalent. So, they eloped to get married. They ran away to Dillon, South Carolina, where a minor could legally marry. My Dad was a mere 19 and in the Coast Guard, and my mother was the tender age of 15. It wasn’t a perfect situation, and it was fraught with a myriad of dangers and potential losses, even in those days. However, it did provide them both with an opportunity at a better life, which they wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’m glad that they had the freedom of that option. I had a mother and a father in my life from infancy, when my mother birthed me, her first child, when she was 17. Again, hardly a perfect situation, but one preferable to today’s most common choice – an abortion – or even a single mother with no father present to help. My parents did make a better life for themselves, and they were incredible parents.
“There isn’t anything perfect about this proposed legislation, but it does provide an alternative that, with proper constraints, can positively work in a couple’s and a child’s favor. This option needs to remain available. This is reasonable legislation, which protects freedom, and rejects a cookie-cutter standard being imposed on every couple.”
The House passed SB 35 by a unanimous vote of 115-0. Some minor and inconsequential changes were made when the House considered the bill, and the Senate will now have to sign off on those before it can finally be sent to Governor Roy Cooper.
During the debate on the House floor, Rep. Kristin Baker (R-Cabarrus), a physician and psychiatrist, said, “As a conservative Christian, I am a strong supporter of the sacrament of marriage. As a child psychiatrist, I am determined to protect our vulnerable youth, enhancing their chances for healthy, happy futures. I believe this bill works to achieve those ends.”
Rep. Ashton Wheeler (D-Guilford) said, “I am extremely proud to see this critical bill moving forward in the NC House. It is past time that we protect our young people – especially young girls – from the well-documented negative impacts of child marriage. I am grateful for the determination of advocates and the bipartisan, bi-cameral legislative leadership to make this progress to protect our children.”
The Senate will likely concur with the House’s minor changes and send the legislation to Governor Cooper.