By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
May 13, 2021
This week the North Carolina Senate raised the age for getting married.
Fourteen and fifteen-year-olds can currently marry under exceptional circumstances. S.B. 35: Max 4-Yr Age Diff to Marry Under 18 Years, which unanimously passed the Senate on Wednesday, raises the age to sixteen and disallows someone sixteen or seventeen to marry anyone more than four years older. Sixteen and seventeen-year-olds would still need either parental or judicial approval to marry.
The legislation was filed by Sen. Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell). Sawyer said she initially pushed for the age limit to be raised to eighteen because marriages under that age characteristically involve domestic violence, poverty, educational deficiencies, increased mental health issues, and more than eighty percent end in divorce.
But she said she backed off the proposed measure when she heard quietly from lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, who said they appreciated her willingness to work on the issue. Still, they could not support it because they had a mother, a sister, or a grandmother married under the age of eighteen. These legislators told Sawyer that even though their family members had difficulties, it turned out to be a happy and successful life.
Remaining concerned about how women who married at younger ages were being negatively impacted, Sawyer said she sought to draw lawmakers around a common cause – the need to curb human trafficking. Teens who marry before eighteen are often married to adult men several years older and trafficked by their spouses. As the bill passed through the committee process, lawmakers agreed to compromise language, which provided better protection for young women.
The first time the bill was heard was in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Sen. Danny Britt (R-Robeson) ran an amendment to leave the age to marry at fourteen with certain conditions and restrict such marriages to someone who was no more than four years older. Britt’s amendment passed, and the measure was sent to the Senate Rules Committee.
When the legislation reached the Rules Committee, Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said the bill would only allow a four-year maximum age difference to anyone marrying under eighteen. This was in addition to the provisions in current law requiring a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old to have a guardian’s permission. A fourteen- or fifteen-year-old that is pregnant or already has a child could also marry with court approval.
In his testimony before the Rules Committee, Rev. Creech said he thought the proposed change of a four-year maximum age difference was an appropriate tightening of the current statutes. He told the committee:
“If you don’t mind, for purposes of making a case for this bill, I would like to draw attention to my own parents.
“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, 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 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 legislation passed the Rules Committee, but Sen. Britt offered another amendment to tighten the initiative further when it arrived on the Senate floor.
Britt’s amendment raised the minimum age to sixteen and left the four-year age difference restriction. Moreover, sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds would have to either have parental consent or court approval to wed.
Both Britt’s amendment and the bill passed 49-0.
Creech said that he believed there were good arguments on both sides of the issue, and he thought lawmakers had reached “the sweet spot.”
The measure now goes to the House.