With support and concerns from both sides of the aisle, the legislature’s Judiciary Committee voted Monday to close a loophole in Connecticut law, which currently allows 16- and 17-year-olds to get married with the approval of a probate court.
State law already requires people to be at least 18 years old in order to marry in Connecticut. However, that policy, adopted in 2017, allows 16 and 17-year-olds to marry with parental consent and the authorization of a probate court judge.
The bill, which advanced out of the Judiciary Committee, removes those exceptions and although some members of both parties voted to advance it to the House of Representatives, several members expressed reservations during a quick debate.
Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, questioned why the law did not include exceptions for situations like pregnancy.
“We’re creating — sorry for my language — a statutory set of bastards,” Godfrey said. “We’ve got children out of wedlock because it’s prohibited by state statute? I’ll vote to get this out of committee today but this needs a significant amount of work.”
Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, suggested the bill addressed a “manufactured problem” and was driven by out-of-state advocacy groups. He said it was unnecessary because only around 30 people younger than 18 had been married in Connecticut since the law was changed around five years ago. He questioned whether any of those marriages were problematic.
“There are certainly situations where [marriage], in an assenting relationship, should be permitted,” Fishbein said. “We have the issue of the emancipated youth where a court has adjudicated that individual to have the rights of an adult and now we’re telling them that it doesn’t matter, even though you’ve been adjudicated to have that legal status, government’s going to step in and take it away from you.”
Advocates of the bill argue the change would bring Connecticut in line with its neighboring states. During a press conference and public hearing earlier this month, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle spoke in favor of changing the law.
During Monday’s meeting, Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the committee, urged proponents of the bill to work out a compromise if they hope to see the bill passed.
“If this bill is ever to actually see the light of the chamber and a vote passing in both chambers, I would encourage those who have concerns and those who want the bill to have a serious sit down and discussion and bring back to us a product that might be workable,” Winfield said. “Just a word of encouragement.”