RALEIGH, North Carolina (WLOS) — A bill to raise the minimum age to get married from age 14 to 18 has been halted in North Carolina’s General Assembly, despite bipartisan support.
North Carolina and Alaska are the only two remaining states that allow 14-year-olds to marry, and North Carolina is becoming a destination state for child marriage because of this.
Advocates of SB35/HB41 said they believe that, for this year at least, they’ve lost the fight to change the law when it comes to raising the minimum age.
A new proposal crafted by Republicans would ban teen marriage where a teen is marrying a much older person. The bill would restrict the age spread to four years so, for example, a 16-year-old could not marry a 20-year-old, or even at 21-year-old.
In North Carolina the current law allowing 14- and 15-year-olds to marry has an added condition that they must be pregnant.
Otherwise, the minimum marriage age in the state is 16.
“I do have faith that our early champions, both Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate, had every intention of a strong bill that would bring the age up more in line with national trends,” said Casey Swegman, manager of the Forced Marriage Initiative Project with nonprofit Tahirih Justice Center.
As for 14-year-olds marrying, Swegman didn’t have exact figures for North Carolina but said many cases where a 14-year-old girl was pregnant were evidence of statutory rape, and the current marriage law was used to avoid criminal charges.
“The International Center for Research on Women showed cases where the pregnancy and the age of the person who got that minor pregnant, were evidence of felony statutory rape, and instead of criminal charges being brought a marriage license was issued,” Swegman said.
The International Center for Research on Women analyzed child marriage license data from 50 counties participating in the research across North Carolina.
Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger has been heavily involved in research and was slated to testify Wednesday before the Senate to provide his county’s research, but was then told there wasn’t enough time.
“We had bipartisan support — everyone from Chuck Edwards to Tim Moffitt,” said Reisinger. “It came down to one person whose name is Phil Berger.”
Republican Senator Phil Berger is the Senate’s Pro Tempore leader.
“He nixed the whole thing because he didn’t support the bill, due to his religious beliefs,” Reisinger said of Berger.
Sen. Berger did not return News 13’s request for comment. News 13 emailed the Senator as well as his assistant but did not get a response back.
“I’m not hopeful anymore that we’re going to achieve anything this year that will protect children in a substantial way,” said Reisinger.
However, Sen. Chuck Edwards disagreed.
“By closing the age gap, we reduce the chances of human trafficking and we are in a better place than we would be without this bill,” Edwards said.
“Research we’ve reviewed reveals 92% of child marriages involve someone of a much greater age, creating a market for sex trafficking in North Carolina. While this bill is not perfect, it takes giant steps forward eliminating this horrific problem.”
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