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Child marriage ban sent to Governor Inslee

Demonstrators at the state capitol building in Olympia urged lawmakers to ban child marriage in Washington. Photo courtesy Unchainedatlast.org.

Child marriage ban only awaits Inslee’s signature

House and Senate give a ban non-partisan approval

A measure that would eliminate child marriage—requiring each person to be 18 years or older—in Washington state is expected to become law soon. The measure, House Bill 1455 , was passed by both the state’s House of Representatives and the Senate earlier this month and this week was sent to Governor Jay Inslee’s desk for his signature. Over the years, similar bills have failed to make it through the legislature.

With Inslee’s stamp approval, the ban on child marriage would go into effect starting June 1.

What it changes

Under current law, most young people in Washington have to be 18 years old to get married in the state. However, there are exceptions:

  • A child 17 years old can be married if they have parental or legal guardian permission
  • Kids under the age of 17 may be married if they obtain permission from a superior court judge. In fact, Washington is one of just a handful of states that don’t specify a minimum age for marriage.

HB 1455 ends those exceptions. According to the nonprofit advocacy group Unchained at Last and Stop Child Marriages, nearly 5,000 Washington kids under age 18 were married between 2000 and 2021. Without the change in law, Washington would continue to be one of a handful of states that don’t specify a minimum age for marriage.

Data reported by Unchained found:

  • the youngest child to be married between 2000 and 2021 was 13 years old
  • 83 % of children married in Washington between 2000 and 2021 were girls wed to adult men
  • In more than 38 of the 5,000 Washington child marriages in that time frame, the spousal age difference would have constituted a sex crime without marriage

Adults have access kids don’t

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Monica Stonier (D-Clark County), told senate committee members last kids younger than 18 cannot access financial services, legal help, or the full array of protections that adults 18 and older would have access to if they wanted to get out of a potentially harmful marriage.

Fraidy Reiss, a forced marriage survivor and founder of Unchained at Last, pointed out the current undermines Washinton’s sexual “The current law completely contradict(s) our statutory rape laws,” said Reiss. “Sex with a child under age 16 is a crime. It’s considered rape in Washington and falls outside of close-in-age exceptions. But marriage to a child of any age is legal.

Republicans and Democrats agree

Support for the measure has been largely non-partisan. Rep. Jim Walsh, (R-Aberdeen) echoed Stonier’s sentiments:

“There are some elements of life that a child is not capable of entering into or deciding about on his or her own,” Walks said. “We believe that this issue, marriage, is one of those. A child still developing the values and the principles that he or she will live their lives on. This bill acknowledges that minor children cannot consent to all of life’s choices and that the state has a role in protecting and holding in reverence their childhood.”

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About the Author

Cheryl Murfin

Cheryl Murfin is managing editor at Seattle's Child. She is also a certified doula, lactation educator for NestingInstinctsSeattle.com and a certified AWA writing workshop facilitator at Compasswriters.com.