This week, the Tahirih Justice Center is celebrating a major victory in the nation-wide campaign to end child marriage in the U.S. when Ohio Governor John Kasich signed a bill into law that will raise the minimum age of marriage to 17, and limit marriage to “legal adults”.
“This bill marks a major step forward for Ohio in strengthening its laws to better protect girls from abuse and exploitation in the guise of marriage,” said Jeanne Smoot, Tahirih’s Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy.
Tahirih helped draft amendments to strengthen the bill with added safeguards, and appreciated that the bipartisan lead sponsors of the bill, Representatives Lanese and Rogers, leveraged our expertise and took a thoughtful approach to reforms.
Prior to the passage of the bill, Ohio’s marriage laws were proven inadequate to protect children. The state had no age floor as long as a judge approved the marriage, a pregnancy exception for girls under 16, and the law differentiated between boys and girls by requiring judicial approval for boys age 17 and younger, and for girls under 16. Recent investigations have revealed that 4,443 girls (and 301 boys) age 17 or younger were married in Ohio between 2000 and 2015, including 59 who were age 15 or younger.
The new law equalizes the treatment of boys and girls by the courts, bans marriage under 17, and requires the court to vet a minor’s maturity and capacity, and to grant emancipation alongside any approval to marry.
There are now only two states left with different rules that apply to boys vs. girls – Arkansas and Mississippi. And finally, with the addition of Ohio, there are now a total of seven states that limit marriage to legal adults: Delaware, New Jersey (age 18, no exceptions) and Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia (age 18, with an exception for court-emancipated minors).
Tahirih is very grateful for pro bono assistance from CivicPoint LLC, and for the partnership of advocacy allies at The Ohio Women’s Public Policy Network, the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, YWCA of Greater Cinncinnati, and the National Association of Social Workers-Ohio Chapter, who helped achieve this important result.