Susan Bysiewicz signs a child marriage bill
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz signs legislation prohibiting child marriage during a ceremony on June 23, 2023 Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

For the first time since becoming Connecticut’s lieutenant governor, Susan Bysiewicz signed legislation into law on Friday, prohibiting marriage before the age of 18, while she performed the duties of acting governor in Ned Lamont’s stead. 

Bysiewicz signed the bill during a morning ceremony in her third floor office of the state Capitol building. The new law closes a loophole, which had previously allowed 16 and 17-year-olds to marry with the approval of their parents and a probate court. It makes Connecticut the eighth state to prohibit minors from getting married. 

“It’s great to sign this particular piece of legislation into law,” she told reporters. “I think it’s a powerful way to protect young girls, boys and young men and women. That was great in and of itself. You know, the governor is in France so I assume his duties.”

Lamont was out of the country, having traveled to France to attend the Paris Air Show, and was expected back sometime over the weekend. The legislation, which passed with bipartisan votes in the House and the unanimous support of the Senate, could have waited for Lamont’s return. 

Bysiewicz, who pushed for passage of the bill along with Lamont’s chief of staff, Johnny Dach, said she took the opportunity to sign into statute. The policy builds on a 2017 law, which created a minimum age for marriage in Connecticut. 

Since then, other states, including three in New England, have outright banned marriage before 18 years old. If Connecticut had not followed suit, advocates feared the state could become a destination for people seeking to marry minors. 

“Connecticut really became a place where people could venue-shop if they were looking to enter into a marriage with a minor,” Bysiewicz said. “And by the way, there are all kinds of unsavory reasons why people would do that, especially human traffickers and those who are exploiting children.”

The bill’s advancement through the legislative process was marked by testimony from women who were forced to marry when they were young. 

In the last days of the legislative session, members of Unchained At Last, a group seeking to end child marriage, roamed the Capitol grounds wearing white bridal dresses in what Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, referred to Friday as “performance lobbying.”

Fraidy Reiss, the group’s founder and executive director, called the new law a “historic victory” for girls in Connecticut. 

“Let’s be very clear: child marriage almost always — almost all the children who marry are girls married to adult men,” Reiss said. “This is very much a gender violence issue and this is a huge step for Connecticut.” 

Massachusetts raised its age to 18 last year. Other Northeast states that have raised the age to 18 or eliminated exemptions include New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Lieutenant governors in other states have been known to sign bills when governors are out of the area, but it’s a rarity in Connecticut. 

During their first term, Bysiewicz signed emergency executive orders in Lamont’s stead which enacted COVID-19 mitigation policies. On Friday, she recalled that signature resulted in her being named as a defendant in a lawsuit challenging COVID restrictions. 

“I have no problem getting sued over public health protections,” she said. “No problem.”

Still, Bysiewicz said she was glad to put her signature on statute she believed would protect young people. 

“This was a nice opportunity and I’m happy that the governor decided that he wanted me to sign it,” she said.