Rising concerns nationwide about underage marriage are reflected in an impending proposal by a Utah legislator to raise the state’s legal age of marriage to 18. Typically, states permit people under 18 to marry in certain circumstances, such as when they get parental consent. The current Utah law allows 15-year-olds to marry with consent from their parents and permission from the court, while children who are 16 or 17 can get married with parental consent without obtaining permission from the court. The state also has a law that allows people to avoid statutory rape charges by marrying the victim, which provides incentives for underage marriages.
Some of the concerns to which the proposed law attempts to respond are situations in which a pregnant female teenager is pressured to marry by family members or situations in which the adult spouse is much older than the child spouse. Utah ranks among the top third of all states for child marriages. Some evidence suggests that many of these marriages, especially those with a large age disparity between the spouses, turn abusive or leave the younger spouse feeling trapped and depressed.
Angela Romero, a Democrat Congresswoman from Salt Lake City, plans to propose the new law at the legislative session in 2019. She notes that it will apply to legal marriages rather than the polygamous relationships found in some parts of Utah, which are already illegal under the state’s bigamy law.