For the last few years, the Tahirih Justice Center has been working state-by-state to change antiquated laws that keep child marriage legal in the U.S. In 2016, Tahirih drafted and spearheaded the bipartisan passage of the first law in the country to limit marriage to legal adults in the state of Virginia. Since then, we have worked to successfully change laws in Texas and New York and are now collaborating with key stakeholders in over a dozen other states on legislation to protect girls from the harms of forced and child marriage.
Yesterday, Tahirih hailed a milestone moment in this campaign when Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed into law SB 48, a bill to overhaul the state’s child marriage laws and put in place critical protections against forced marriage and other harm. Kentucky previously had some of the laxest laws in the country, and 11,000 children under age 18 (and as young as age 13) were married in in the state in recent years.
The new Kentucky law prohibits marriage under age 17 entirely, prevents 17-year-olds from marrying someone more than four years older, and puts in place a special judicial proceeding with numerous safeguards against forced marriage and other harm. Alongside the approval to marry, the court also simultaneously grants the 17-year-old the full rights and status of an adult, to help her protect herself in case of abuse.
From the beginning of this legislative journey in Kentucky, Tahirih has been deeply honored to partner with child marriage survivor advocate Donna Pollard. Her passion, dignity, and leadership united diverse allies, encouraged other survivors to speak out, and moved the Kentucky Legislature to take action.
Across the country, we’ve seen tremendous growth in the movement to protect girls from the risks and harms of child marriage. Just last week, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law SB 140, a bill that prohibits marriage under age 17 entirely and prevents 17-year-olds from marrying someone more than two years older. Florida’s new law is the culmination of years of persistence by child marriage survivor advocate Sherry Johnson, who has worked tirelessly to underscore how the previous status quo subjected girls to unconscionable harm. Her unwavering commitment to protecting girls in Florida was crucial to this achievement.
Tahirih would like to extend our deep thanks to the dedicated pro bono partners who helped make these milestones possible. We’re incredibly grateful to Frost Brown Todd LLC and its government relations arm, CivicPoint, for their support and strategic guidance in Kentucky, and to Greenberg Traurig LLP and Full Contact Strategies for their commitment to raising awareness about the urgent need for reforms in Florida. We would also like to thank Hogan Lovells for their generous support of this ongoing national campaign to end child marriage, including by providing legal research in Kentucky and Florida.