Idaho had a chance to bring its marriage laws into the 21st century this week with a bill that would end child marriage in the state, the Idaho Statesman reported on Thursday.
But the measure was killed in the state House of Representatives — leaving Idaho to potentially maintain its status as having the highest child marriage rate in the country.
Under current law, children aged 16 and 17 years can marry in Idaho with parental consent, and those under 16 can marry if a judge consents as well. There is no minimum age that a child can be married in Idaho.
Unchained at Last, a national advocacy group working toward the end of child marriage in the U.S., found that 4,080 children were married in Idaho from 2000 to 2010, and the youngest was just 13 years old.
Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, led a bipartisan effort to set a minimum marriage age of 16 and proposing that for 16- and 17-year-olds to wed, “consent of the child, parents and court would be required.”
Though in many states the minimum age to marry is 18, Wintrow said her bill was a compromise: “Instead of ending child marriage outright, this is a modest approach to bring it in conformity with our statutory rape laws.”
Colin Nash, substituting for Rep. John McCrostie, D-Boise, on the House floor Thursday, said the bill was “a great opportunity for Idaho to rid itself of an infamous statistic and that is we have the highest rate of child marriage in the United States.”
He added: “When it is legal for a 30-year-old to marry a 15-year-old that is not marriage because they are not equal partners. That is institutionalized child abuse. That is arranged rape.”
But the bill brought disdain from Republicans, some of whom cited government overreach.
Rep. Bryan Zollinger argued that government should have nothing to do with marriage in the first place, saying he doesn’t even “believe there should be a license required to get married.”
Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, argued that such decisions should be left to families.
“This is a decision I think should belong with families. I believe parental consent, which is what is in the law right now, should be sufficient,” she said. “We already require a judge to sign off if a person is under 16.”
Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, was outraged that Idaho would effectively make it illegal for a young girl to get married while she is able to consent to an abortion.
“If we pass this legislation, it will then become easier in the state of Idaho to obtain an abortion at 15 years old than it will to decide to form a family and create a family for a child that has been conceived,” Zito said. “If we pass this legislation, a girl who is 15 years old who has the support of her family and the family of the father of the baby will not be able to get married.”
According to the Statesman, Idaho law allows a girl under 18 to get an abortion so long as she has the permission of at least one parent or a judge.
The bill failed in a 28-39 vote.