The postponement of a state bill aimed at terminating child marriage in Washington has been announced until 2024 as a result of a decision made by a Democratic state senator to prioritize the passage of other legislative measures this year.
House Bill 1455 was approved by the Washington House with a unanimous vote at the beginning of March. However, the bill encountered an obstacle in the Senate and was unable to meet the legislative deadline of April 23 for a vote to be conducted by the Senate Law and Justice Committee.
According to the chair of the panel, Manka Dhingra, who is a state senator representing the Democratic Party, the evaluation of the 65 bills that were submitted to her committee resulted in the decision to defer the passing of HB 1455 until the next legislative session, after determining which bills were necessary to be passed this year and which ones could be postponed. This information was reported by the Seattle Times. The bill cannot proceed to a Senate floor vote unless it is approved by the committee.
According to Unchained At Last, an organization that advocates against child marriage, Washington is among the 43 states that permit minors to enter into marriage. Furthermore, it should be noted that this state is among the six that do not establish a minimum age requirement for marriage. This implies that a child, regardless of age, may enter into matrimony with the consent of their parents at the age of 17 or with the authorization of a judge if they are younger. In contrast, it is noteworthy that in certain states, the minimum age for marriage is set between the range of 15 and 17 years for minors.
Several other states have recently taken steps to increase the minimum age requirement for marriage. According to data provided by Unchained at Last, legislative measures have been taken in 19 states to restrict child marriage, while 10 states, including Washington, have proposed bills aimed at prohibiting all marriages involving individuals under the age of 18.
The passing of Washington's bill, however, will be postponed until the subsequent legislative session.
Dhingra expressed her anticipation for the upcoming session to hear it, as stated in her statement to The Seattle Times.
If the trends observed in the last available year of data persist, it is projected that approximately 68 minors will enter into marriage before the reintroduction of the bill to the legislators.
According to data provided by the Washington Department of Health to Newsweek, a total of 4,465 minors were married in the state of Washington from 2000 to 2014, with an additional estimated 366 minors having been married between 2015 and 2018. Ninety-seven percent of the aforementioned matrimonial unions involved individuals who were 17 years of age, while two percent comprised 16-year-olds, and one percent were constituted by 15-year-olds.
According to the statistics presented in Unchained at Last, there is a disproportionate impact of child marriages on girls in the state of Washington. The data reveals that child marriages primarily involve minor girls, with 16- and 15-year-olds being the most common age groups. Additionally, a significant proportion of child marriages involve an adult man and a minor girl, accounting for 80 percent of all child marriages. Conversely, only 10 percent of child marriages involve a minor boy and an adult woman.
According to Fraidy Reiss, the founder and executive director of Unchained at Last, adolescents, even those who are on the cusp of turning 18, may find it challenging to decline a coerced marriage due to their restricted legal privileges. This statement was reported by Newsweek. The persistence of outdated laws in the legal system poses a threat to the human rights of minors, particularly girls, who may be coerced into marriage against their will.
In Washington, individuals who wish to obtain a marriage license are required to sign affidavits as a means of verifying that they have attained the age of 18 years. However, in cases where the individual is 17 years old, they may still be eligible to obtain a marriage license, provided they have obtained written consent from their parents. Additionally, individuals who are younger than 17 years old may also be granted a marriage license if a superior court judge has waived the age requirement.