Connecticut lawmakers voted Friday to tighten the state’s marriage laws, prohibiting anyone under age 18 from being issued a marriage license under any circumstance.
The legislation cleared the Senate unanimously, following a 98-45 bipartisan vote last month in the House of Representatives. It updates a 2017 anti-child marriage law that advocates contend created a dangerous loophole, leaving young people at risk of coercion and sexual abuse.
Currently in Connecticut, a 16- or 17-year-old may get a marriage license if their local probate court judge approves a petition filed on the minor’s behalf by their parent or guardian. Current state law also allows emancipated minors to marry at 16 or 17, something that will end under this new legislation as well.
The bill moves to Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s desk. A spokesperson said Friday the governor plans to sign the legislation into law.
Despite Friday’s unanimous Senate vote, there was criticism of the legislation in the House — including whether it’s needed given the small number of teen marriages in Connecticut, and the fact a probate judge can deny a license if they believe a young person is being coerced into marrying.
But Democratic Sen. Herron Gaston of Bridgeport spoke from personal experience about the importance of the legislation during Friday’s Senate debate. He described about how his sister was married to a 50-year-old man when she was 17 years old and living on the island of St. Lucia.
“I’ve seen the devastating impact it has had on her physically, how it deprived her of her innocence and of her childhood,” he said. “She bore five children from this marriage and eventually had to flee from the island of Saint Lucia and down to Florida in order to get away from her abuser.”
Some advocates for the legislation, dressed in wedding gowns with chains around their wrists, watched Friday’s proceedings from the Senate gallery. They noted all week how neighboring states, including Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, have already adopted the 18-year-old marriage requirement.
Connecticut is one of several states across the country this year that moved to raise the minimum age to legally marry to 18, including Vermont. Bids to raise the minimum marriage age in West Virginia and Washington stalled.