Ohio Lawmakers Working to Ban Child Marriages

teen girls

Today, an Ohio House committee will hear from supporters of new legislation (House Bill 511) that would change Ohio’s antiquated laws on child marriage.

The law on the books in Ohio currently requires only that boys must be 18 to marry, while girls can marry as early as age 16. That’s sexist and must change.

What’s even more disturbing, however, is that Ohio law permits girls under 16, with no established minimum, to marry if they are pregnant and have parental approval. This leads to situations in which many girls, already facing an unwanted pregnancy, are pressured to marry the adult men who impregnate them out of a desire to make the birth ‘legitimate.’ In fact, “parents’ rights” groups were the main opposition to similar legislation that was later amended and passed in the Kentucky legislature.

Girls who marry young are more likely to drop out of high school, and four times less likely to finish college, resulting in a lifetime of diminished earning potential as a result.

House Bill 511 is a bipartisan proposal that would raise the marriage age to 18, with an exception for 17 year olds who have been emancipated and prohibits marriage between a minor and a much-older adult, setting a 4-year age difference for a minor allowed to legally marry.

Today, IO’s Erin Ryan, who also serves a Managing Director for the Ohio Women’s Public Policy Network, will testify in support of HB511. Included in her testimony are these devastating facts:

Evidence suggests that the age differences in most of these marriages between teen girls and adult men can lead to unequal power and control dynamics, creating an environment rife with domestic violence and abuse, which often continues throughout the marriage. Women who marry as minors are significantly more likely to have mental and physical health issues as a result of the abuse they suffer, and girls marrying under 18 are three times more likely to experience domestic violence. Due to the age of the child at the time of the marriage or the age difference between the child and their spouse, some of these situations constituted statutory rape under Ohio’s state law. However, because of the outdated laws dictating marriage in Ohio, these cases lead to marriage licenses, not statutory rape charges.

You can read Erin’s full testimony here. To contact your State Representative and ask them to support House Bill 511, use our letter-writing tool.