SWEETWATER COUNTY — Black Butte High School students and Sweetwater County legislators said they are in favor of raising the legal marriage age limit from 16 to 18.
“I don’t think kids should get married at the age of 16,” BBHS junior Blaise Boudra said. “They are in high school and are working on graduating. They shouldn’t be worried about having to raise a family.
“I’m 17 right now, and I don’t think I’d be ready to get married.”
At 16 years old, students are trying to figure things out. When they are 18, they will know more about what they want to do in life, sophomore Sierra Sorensen said.
Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, is the main sponsor to House Bill 60. Rep. John Freeman, D-Green River is one of seven other legislators to cosponsor the measure. The others are Reps. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette; Jim Blackburn, R-Cheyenne; Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie; Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne; and Sens. Cale Case, R-Lander; and Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie.
Boudra said it should be the government’s role to protect children from getting married before the age of 18.
If HB 60 passes, it will go into effect July 1, 2019.
A BIG COMMITMENT
The biggest impact of the bill, according to Freeman, “will be to slow down emotional marriages by young people.”
“Before I signed on the bill, people made the argument to me that society makes young people wait until they are 18 to have credit, smoke, etc., but allows young people into marriage at 16 with many of its unintended consequences,” he said. “The current law didn’t make sense to them. They saw the need for uniformity within the statutes.”
BBHS senior Lilian Hall said raising the age limit is a good idea because marriage is complicated.
“It’s not high school dating, it’s a real thing,” she said. “Getting married is more complicated. It’s not quite as simple as a teenager thinks it is.”
“You’re not sure who you’re going to be with,” she said.
At 16, someone is making a decision to be with a person for the rest of their lives, but at some point they may want to change their mind, Boudra added.
BBHS junior Damion Aragon said once someone gets married, “you can’t worry about yourself anymore.”
“You’re not only making a commitment to yourself, you’re making a commitment to someone else,” Boudra added.
Sen. Liisa Anselmi-Dalton, D-Rock Springs, said the bill would be in line with the age to vote and join the military.
“Nonetheless, I have known people who married prior to 18 due to pregnancy and had it work out,” she said. “It could curb human trafficking, which is increasing nationwide.”
BBHS students said there should be some exceptions attached to the bill.
Hall said if teens get married before turning 18 due to issues at home, such as living with a parent dealing with an addiction, and they can show evidence there is a problem, then it would be OK.
A judge would still issue a license if they are approached and if an applicant is under 18 and presents a compelling argument. The same is currently true with residents under 16, Freeman said.
The bill could also add a stipulation for religion. Aragon said some people may grow up in a culture that supports or encourages marriage at young ages.
When asked if they would support only raising the age limit to 17, students said no.
If you’re going to let them marry at 17, the Legislature might as well keep the age limit at 16 because students do not grow that much between 16 and 17, Hall said.
Some said they would support increasing it to 21.
Aragon said this is an age where people would probably be more financially stable.
THINKING IT OUT
Freeman said he decided to cosponsor the bill based on his teaching experience.
“Over the 33 years I taught, I had a couple of dozen students who got into a fight with their parents or were becoming parents themselves run to the courthouse and get married without thinking all things through,” he said. “I had parents find out that their child was married and they were to become a grandparent in the same sentence after their ex spouse signed a permission statement. Most of the time, the marriage certificate made difficult situations even more difficult to work out.”
Rep. Jerry Paxton, R-Encampment, said he supports the concept behind the bill, “as I believe 16 is much too young to get married.” However, he added he “would like to hear the rationale behind the bill and listen to the floor debate.”
“If the bill should pass, I don’t believe it would have a lot of impact on the counties or the state,” Paxton said. “I would like to see just how many marriage licenses are issued to people below the age of 18.”
The number of marriages recorded in Wyoming for applicants 18 or younger for 2018, was 8 as of Dec. 30, 2018. There were 11 in 2017, 20 in 2016, and 20 in 2015. The numbers do not differentiate between minors with consent, the emancipation of minors and/or court orders, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
In 2018, Sweetwater County received 269 marriage certificate applications, which marked a drop from 282 in 2017 and 300 in 2016. However, it didn’t have a breakdown by age.
The Rocket-Miner publishes marriage licenses that are issued, but in 2018 none featured residents under 18.
“It is my understanding that there are not a lot of these licenses issued by the state at this time,” Anselmi-Dalton said. “The bill may have positive impact if it causes some of our youth to take time to consider whether they are ready for marriage, which is a very serious decision.”