HARTFORD, CT — Legislation that would prohibit the issuance of a marriage license to anyone under the age of 18 cleared its first hurdle Wednesday.
The legislation was approved on a 32-7 vote of the Judiciary Committee. All seven members voting against the proposal were Republicans.
Marrying that young “can be detrimental to a child’s well-being,” Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, said during a public hearing held on the proposed legislation. Cook was one of the co-sponsor of the legislation.
The bill has some exceptions, including a teen who is pregnant or if the intended spouse is a member of the Armed Forces and has the written consent of a parent and a probate judge.
“Statistics show that when married young, children tend not to finish high school or pursue college,” Cook said. She added that when teens marry young “they are more susceptible to pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases that can compromise their health.”
Cook added that the bill “also protects children from being led into human trafficking and forced marriages.”
Laws in 27 states, including Connecticut, do not have a minimum age below which a child cannot marry.
Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey are all considering bills this year that would limit child marriage.
Currently, Connecticut’s legal age to marry is 18 but the law allows for exceptions: 16- and 17-year-olds can marry as long as they obtain parental consent. And children 16 and younger can marry if they obtain approval from a probate judge.
The bill was brought to the attention of Cook by a Litchfield couple who learned about Connecticut’s law while doing research for mater degrees in public health.
During the public hearing on the proposed legislation, advocates for children urged the Judiciary Committee to back the proposal.
Janet Walsh, acting director of Women’s Rights for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organization, testified that she was shocked Connecticut had no age limitations on marriage.
“Such a law is out of step with the rest of the world,” she said. “Even in countries with high rates of child marriage, there is usually recognition that marriage before the age of 18 is harmful, and [there is] an effort to prevent these marriages, beginning with reforming the law.”
She said that of the countries in which Human Rights Watch has worked to end child marriage, only Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen — like Connecticut — have set no minimum age below which marriage isn’t permitted.
Judiciary Committee members were moved during the public hearing by the testimony of Nalia Amin, who told them she grew up in New York, was engaged to be married at age 8, and married at 15.
“Even though I was still living in New York, I was taken back to Pakistan and forced to marry a first cousin who was 13 years older than me,” Nalia told the committee. “I was rescued by the State Department and child protective services in March of 2015.
But it was too late.
“I lost my youth and my mental health is just not the same. The happy-go-lucky girl is gone. I can go months now without laughing. He robbed me of my childhood. My body and soul were taken from me by force,” Nalia said.
The Judiciary Committee gave broad support to the bill, but didn’t pass it unanimously.
Among those voting against it was Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott.
Sampson said his main objection was that the legislature had several bills in front of it this year concerning regulating young people, naming tobacco use and parental consent for abortion as two examples.
“I have some concerns about whether or not the state of Connecticut should be involved in the institution of marriage at all,” Sampson said.