Missouri — long the easiest state in the nation for 15-year-olds to wed — has outlawed the practice.
Gov. Mike Parson on Friday signed into law Senate Bill 655. Before, Missouri was one of 25 states with no minimum marriage age. And Missouri was the only state that allowed children age 15 to marry with only one parent’s approval, even if the other parent objected. Children younger than 15 needed a judge’s approval.
“The welfare of our children must always be a top priority,” Parson said in a statement Friday.
In March, The Kansas City Star published a series on child marriage showing that Missouri possessed the dubious honor of the most lenient law in the nation allowing 15-year-olds to wed.
The result was that Missouri had become a destination wedding spot for 15-year-old brides, with 1,000 15-year-olds being wed in the state between 1999 and 2017. Many of them were marrying men age 21 or older, in effect allowing the girls to marry their rapists.
Now, no one age 15 or under is allowed to marry in the state. The minimum legal age is 16. Marriage at 16 and 17 still requires the signed approval of at least one parent. In addition, marriage licenses will not be given to individuals 21 or older intending to marry someone 16 or younger.
“It’s done. It’s awesome,” said Rep. Jean Evans, a Republican from St. Louis County who, for two years, worked to change the state’s child marriage laws. “I think some people think there’s not much to it because we raised it from 15 to 16. (But) there was no minimum before.
“Most important, we are not going to allow adults to prey on children. Someone 21 is not going to be allowed to marry someone 15. We are not going to allow adults to legalize what is statutory rape.”
The bill that Parson signed into law, sponsored by Sen. Scott Sifton, a Democrat from St. Louis County, also removes the statutes of limitation on prosecutions involving child abuse and unlawful sexual offenses against children.
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Source: Kansas City