SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) – A Utah lawmaker is proposing to ban all child marriages in the state, no matter the circumstances.
Currently, Utah law allows children to marry at age 15 with parental and judicial consent, and at 16 or 17 with parental permission. Rep. Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake City) proposed Tuesday to make any marriage under 18 illegal in the state of Utah, something that’s only been done by one other state – Delaware.
“We are still drafting the language, so I’m not sure how that will turn out. But my concern is when somebody’s forced into a marriage that they don’t want to be in or…coerced because of a circumstance,” Romero told News4Utah Wednesday. “The emotional maturity doesn’t even happen until you’re 25,” Romero said. “18 is the age of consent where people are allowed to vote…I think this makes that reasonable.”
Romero said one of the main reasons for drafting the legislation is to protect children from sexual abuse, adding she believes an 18 year old has more of an ability to make an informed decision before entering into a marriage contract.
“I’m trying to protect children. We’ve seen young men and young women being exploited,” Romero said.
Child marriages have long been discussed in the legislature, in light of the life sentence currently being served by Fundamentalist Mormon leader Warren Jeffs, who was convicted for sex assault after marrying young girls. Currently, most states allow a 16 or 17 year old to marry with parental permission.
The bill will likely be debated in the 2019 legislative session, introduced a year after a state law went into effect that prohibits children from entering into polygamous marriages. Romero said her bill is not targeting polygamists specifically.