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Bill To Raise Utah's Marriage Age To 18, With Some Exceptions, Gets First OK

Rep. Angela Romero
Austen Diamond
/
Rep. Angela Romero is sponsoring H.B. 234 to raise the legal age of marriage in Utah.

A bill to raise the legal age of marriage in Utah from 16 to 18 is making its way to the full House after a committee gave its initial support on Monday.

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said her bill will help protect vulnerable teens, especially those in abusive relationships.

“You’re not allowed to go to an emergency shelter for domestic violence until you’re 18. You’re not allowed to sign contracts unless you’re over the age of 18,” she said. “It is our duty, yes as parents, to make sure that our children are safe.”

Although Romero said she’d like a firm cap on 18, a substitute from Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, would carve out a few exceptions.

For 16- and 17-year-olds, individuals would have to seek approval from a juvenile court judge in order to get married. A judge could also impose requirements such as completing pre-marriage counseling and finishing school.

Under current Utah law, 15-year-olds are able to seek court approval for marriage, while 16- and 17-year-olds are only required to get parental consent. Romero’s bill would eliminate 15-year-olds from getting married altogether.

About a half dozen people spoke in support of the measure, including Heidi Clark of Orem. Clark was pressured into getting married at 17 after getting pregnant and ended up in an abusive relationship.

"The pressure unique to a child marriage is absolutely real,” she said, her voice breaking. “It traps our daughters and sons in unhappy and unsafe environments.”

Only one person spoke against the bill, Nicholeen Peck, who argued exceptions should be made for pregnant teens.

“I do have people I know who got married because they had an unplanned pregnancy and similarly have been married for 30-plus years, and they’re happy,” said Peck. “I think we need .... to make sure we still leave that opportunity open for people.”

Before the bill gets to the full House, more changes are expected. That includes a possible provision that would limit the age gap allowed between a teenager and a consenting adult.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake, said he’d like the age gap not to exceed seven years. Romero said she may offer an amendment when the bill gets to the House floor.  

“This is a first step,” said Romero after the hearing.

 

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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