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Senate committee votes down bill restricting underage marriages in West Virginia

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee narrowly knocked down a bill establishing 18 as the age of marital consent and prohibiting marriages at younger ages.

Nobody in a Wednesday evening meeting spoke against the bill, but a vote to advance it to the full Senate failed 8-9.

House Bill 3018 would have removed the ability of an underage person to obtain consent to marry through their parents, legal guardians or by petition to circuit court. It overwhelmingly passed the full House of Delegates last week.

Del. Kayla Young

Delegate Kayla Young, the lead sponsor, spoke in favor of the bill at the Senate committee meeting. Young said she began pushing the bill after becoming aware of West Virginia’s high rate of child marriage. That’s seven marriages per 1,000, she said.

The biggest reason for the bill, she said, is “children don’t have the same legal rights parents do. They can’t sign a contract; they can’t get a lease; they can’t open a bank account; they can’t get a protective order; they can’t file for divorce because they’re under 18 years old.”

She added, “This really undermines our statutory rape laws because right now the age of consent for sex is 18. The age of marriage is zero. There’s no floor. All the states around us at least have a floor. We don’t have anything.”

Senators did not ask Young any questions.

Patricia Rucker

Senator Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, then made a motion to table the bill.

Her motion was rejected narrowly, with eight in favor and nine opposed.

Then the committee’s vice chairman, Senator Ryan Weld, made a motion to report the bill to the full Senate.

That motion failed, again with eight in favor and nine opposed.

So the bill is done.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, activated his light to make one more point about what had just happened.

” I just wanted to remind everyone in the room that this is International Women’s Day,” said Woelfel, who had voted for advancing the bill. “Thank you.”


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