The Ohio General Assembly raised the minimum age for getting married to 18. The new law allows 17-year-olds to get married, provided they get permission from a juvenile court judge and the marriage partner is no more than four years older.
John Kasich signed House Bill 511 into law on Jan. 7 as one of his final acts as he completed his second term as governor. The law goes into effect in April, 90 days after being signed.
Under current law, female teens can get married at age 16, but boys have to be at least 18. The soon-to-expire law allows younger pregnant teens to get married, however, if consent is obtained from parents and from a juvenile court judge.
One of the bill’s main authors was state Rep. John Rogers, D-Menton.
“Earlier this year I learned of an investigation carried out by the Dayton Daily News that brought to light a high number of underage marriages in Ohio and the impact it has for juveniles as young as 14 years old,” Rogers said in a news release discussing his bill.
“In a specific case, a 48-year old impregnated a 14-year-old and then married her, exempting him from prosecution for statutory rape,” he said.
“Between the years 2000 and 2015, there were more than 4,000 girls who were 17 years of age or younger who were married in Ohio. During that same time span, just 201 boys less than the age of 17 were married with the approval of a parent or juvenile court,” Rogers said. “The large discrepancy between teenage minors getting married begs the question if the age at which Ohio teenagers can marry, especially young girls, is too lenient.”
Underage marriages are rare in Erie County and in much of the state, said common pleas Judge Robert C. DeLamatre, who handles juvenile cases.
He said he had one case in the last 18 years in which a young, underage person asked for permission to get married.
The case was about three years ago, and involved a male who was 18 or 19 and a girl who was 16 or 17, DeLamatre said.
“It was kind of a Romeo-Juliet type thing,” the judge said, recalling that the girl’s parents did not like the boy.
DeLamatre said he explained he’d have to do a background check and talk to the parents, and at that point, the case was withdrawn.
“The case died at that point,” he said.
As it happened, the case came in as DeLamatre was about to attend a judicial conference, so he asked other juvenile judges for advice on how to proceed. Although a couple of judges explained what they had done, the impression DeLamatre got was that such cases were “really rare” in Ohio, the judge said.
Rogers’ bill was approved in the Ohio Senate 32-0, with former Sen. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, joining everyone else in voting “yes,” and passed the Ohio House 90-2, with local representatives Dick Stein, R-Norwalk, Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, and Steve Arndt, R-Port Clinton, all voting in favor.
Arndt was a co-sponsor of House Bill 511.
“It was actually a very interesting bill,” Arndt said.
He said he did not understand why, under current law, girls could get married at a younger age than boys.
“Why would you do that?” Arndt asked.