Washington State Legislature Fails to End Child Marriage

Seattle Times staff reporter

Bill to End Child Marriage Passes Unanimously in State House, but Bill Stalled in WA Senate.

House Bill 1455 seemed to gain momentum after it passed the Washington House 95-0 in early March. But it has languished in the Senate, where it didn’t meet a legislative deadline to get voted out of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

The bill stalled as some states have recently taken action to make their marriage age laws stricter. Advocates say child marriage is condemned internationally as a human rights abuse and that it primarily impacts girls.

“This is not about maturity. It’s about legal capacity,” said Fraidy Reiss, founder and executive director of Unchained At Last. “You do wake up on your 18th birthday, magically, with the rights of adulthood. And those rights are crucial to navigate a contract as serious as marriage.

A minor who is 15 to 17 years old can get a protective order on their own in Washington, while those younger than 15 need an adult to petition on their behalf, according to state law.

In Washington, said Katherine Cleland, volunteer for Zonta International and U.S. representative to the National Coalition to End Child Marriage, most legislators aren’t aware it’s an issue, either.

“The issue had not been brought to their attention, and they’re surprised and appalled when they hear about it,” Cleland said. “And then it’s a question of where it is on the political priority list.”


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