OREM, Utah (News4Utah) — A Utah woman, pregnant at age 16 who married soon after wants lawmakers to raise the legal age of marriage.
Heidi Clark says she felt pressure to get married too young.
“I was just a teenage girl,” said Clark, as she reflects on her wedding day.
Clark says she was physically and emotionally abused in her marriage.
“I would have had the opportunity to see that happening if I hadn’t married him when I was a child,” said Clark. “I don’t want to see other girls go through what I went through.”
Clark isn’t the only one who married young.
Data shows more than 200,000 Americans under age 18 married between 2000 and 2015.
Utah is in the top third of all states. Most underaged spouses are women.
Clark believes if the law was different when she was 16, her life would be very different too.
She says she doesn’t want any young woman to endure what she went through.
“We’re supposed to protect our children,” said Clark. “It says a lot about a society of how they protect the most vulnerable among them. 17 is still a child. We should protect them.”
Clark hopes to share her message with lawmakers in hopes of change the next legislative session.
“It saddened me,” said Utah Representative Angela Romero. “That’s not the only story I’ve heard. I’ve heard of various stories of women who were forced to get married by their parents whether they were 16, 17, that landed up in abusive relationships.”
Rep. Romero, a Democrat, is preparing a proposal to raise the legal marriage age for the next legislative session in 2019.
She says this bill is her number one priority, and she’s in the drafting phase.
Romero says raising the legal age of marriage is about gender equity, gender equality and protecting children.
Her goal is to raise the legal age of marriage to 18.
“18 is the age where you’re allowed to vote, you’re allowed to sign contracts,” said Rep. Romero. “That number makes sense (but) I think 18 is too young myself. If you look at the research, people aren’t really developed emotionally until age 25, so this is a really important decision in your life. If you get married at 16 you have no legal rights.”