Controversial new Louisiana law sets 16 as legal age for marriage

Age difference between teens and spouse also limited

Don Ames
June 10, 2019 - 10:03 am

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After a controversial legislative battle that drew international attention, Louisiana is set to bar kids under the age of 16 from getting married.

The legislation awaits Governor Edward's signature. But if signed, New Orleans Representative Stephanie Hilferty says the state will finally have a marriage age floor and restrictions on marriage age.

"16- and 17-year-olds will go before the judge, and the judge will have a list of considerations they will look at before granting that marriage license."

Those 16 and 17 will need both judicial approval and parental consent before marriage. Each perspective spouse will be interviewed separately by the judge, so they can vet out any potentially dangerous scenarios. "Whether that be human trafficking, or an abusive relationship...or being coerced into the marriage and maybe not entering it under their free will," says Hilferty.

She says those kind of things are often facilitated when older men marry young girls. The new law will also prohibit the teens from marrying anyone who is three years or more their senior. Supporters say a minimum age will help protect teenagers from sexual predators.

Initially, proponents wanted to set a hard limit at 18 years old. But the measure ran into stiff opposition from some religious organizations concerned about prohibiting pregnant teenagers from marrying and forcing them to have a child out of wedlock.

Hilferty says that opposition prompted a compromise. "I mean, I prefer 18. But 17 was the amendment that I  brought and the compromise position to make sure that, coming out of this legislative session, we at least set a floor for the marital age at 16. It was completely unacceptable to me to not, at least, set a floor."

A last minute push got it approved before the end of this year's session.

"Prior to this bill passing, we had no minimum age for marriage in Louisiana, which put us as an outlier in the country, and among our southern peer states," Hilferty said.

The bill went to the governor's desk with a 61-36 House vote and 35-2 Senate vote.

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