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NC's Minimum Marriage Age Rises To 16 In Bill OK'd By Senate

Jeremy Wong Weddings

RALEIGH — The minimum age to get married in North Carolina would increase from 14 to 16 under legislation unanimously approved by the state Senate on Wednesday.

Backers of the measure say it reflects a compromise from the original content of the bill, which would have raised the minimum age to 18. Some senators were unhappy with that measure or a later version that would still have allowed 14-year-olds to marry — although no child could have married a partner more than four years older than him or her.

A consensus amendment introduced during Wednesday's floor debate reworked the measure entirely. Fourteen- and 15-year-olds could no longer marry under the changes. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds would need either written parental consent or a judge's order to marry if the bill becomes law, and the young person's spouse could be no more than four years older.

Sen. Vickie Sawyer, an Iredell County Republican and bill sponsor, said the original version couldn't advance because some senators weren't convinced that getting married under 18 wasn't the wrong choice in all circumstances.

“This is a generational divide,” Sawyer said after the vote. “And so it was older members, both Democrat and Republicans, that had those personal stories of family members who had been married and it turned out OK. So I knew that I couldn’t overcome those types of obstacles.”

Current law requires parental consent for 16- and 17-year-olds to get married. Fourteen- and 15-year-olds can only marry if a pregnancy is involved and a judge authorizes the marriage. There is no age limit gap between the couple.

Sawyer said the compromise, which now goes to the House, was the result of members of both parties seeking a middle-ground solution. She has said narrowing child marriage options discourages child sex trafficking and abuse in North Carolina, whose current laws are making it a destination state for child marriages.