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Lawmakers in North Carolina are looking to push the state’s minimum marriage age from 14 to 16, and are trying to limit the age difference between a 16-year-old and their spouse to four years.
“We will have moved the needle and made North Carolina no longer at the very bottom of the barrel of states,” said Drew Reisinger, the register of deeds in Buncombe County, who added that “we’re still going to be putting a lot of children in harm’s way.”
According to Reisinger, adult and child brides come from Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee to get married in the county, where two-thirds of marriages involving someone under 18 involved people from other states. Currently, 13 states in the U.S. allow children under 16 to get married, according to advocacy organization Unchained at Last. Alaska allows children as young as 14 to get married, while in North Carolina, 14-year-olds can only get married with a judge’s permission if they become pregnant, and at 16 with parental permission.
Nearly 8,800 minors were listed on marriage licenses in North Carolina between 2000-2015, according to a study from the rights group International Center for Research on Women. Still, some lawmakers in North Carolina consider certain instances of marriage involving children to be acceptable. With one more Senate vote, the legislation will be presented to Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s desk and likely signed into law this week.
“It’s a generational divide,” said state Republican Senator Vickie Sawyer. “It was older members — both Democrat and Republicans — that had those personal stories of family members who had been married and it turned out OK.”