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This article was originally published on March 18, 2022.

Yesterday, Maryland’s House of Delegates passed legislation that would raise the minimum age for marriage in Maryland from 15 to 17. We are grateful to Del. Vanessa E. Atterbeary for championing House Bill 83 and to Delegate Emily Shetty for ensuring the amended version remains strong after considering the Senate’s concerns. HB 83 would ban 17-year-olds from marrying someone who is older than them by four years and would require the 17-year-old to appear before a judge who will evaluate the intended marriage for signs of coercion.

“It is disappointing that HB 83 needed amendments to satisfy the Senate’s concerns,” said Casey Carter Swegman, Director of Public Policy at Tahirih Justice Center. “However, this amended version still provides significantly more protection to Maryland’s children than current law. Maryland legislators have been delaying action on child marriage for years and it is time they come together and finally make progress that survivors and their voters have been waiting for. ”

In comparison to HB 83, Senate Bill 29 does little more than raise the state’s minimum marriage age to 17. It preserves the parental and pregnancy exceptions of current law – dangerous provisions that too often serve to conceal parental coercion or award a marriage license to a child whose pregnancy should be a red flag for potential abuse.

The amended version of HB 83 is a strong compromise that addresses many of the Senate’s concerns. We urge Maryland’s senators to quickly pass this bill without further changes before the legislative session ends. This change is long overdue to protect Maryland’s children and to stop being such an obvious destination state for child marriage.

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