Lawmakers say they’ll consider changes to Ohio child marriage laws

Political leaders on both sides of the aisle are interested in changing Ohio’s marriage laws after reading a Dayton Daily News special report about children as young as 14 getting married with parental and judicial consent.

State Rep. Jeff Rezabek, R-Clayton, said he’ll soon meet with Republicans and Democrats who expressed interest in reforming the law but exactly how the reforms might take shape remains to be seen. Lawmakers will want to study data and trends on child marriage in Ohio and across the nation, he said.

Related: At 14, Ohio woman married a 48-year-old man; says she would do it again

Ohio law allows girls 16 and older and males 18 and older to marry. But with parental and judicial consent, younger children may marry.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican, said “Your series could certainly prompt the Legislature to take a look at this…These are troubling cases. No one could look at some of these without being troubled.”

Related: Ohio not among states that are changing their child marriage laws

An investigation by this newspaper found thousands of girls age 17 or younger got married in Ohio between 2000 and 2015, including 59 who were 15 and younger. Several other states have already passed reform measures or are considering them.

Montgomery County Juvenile Court Judge Anthony Capizzi, who heads a national association, said Ohio should increase the age for marriage.

“I am going to raise the issue with the Ohio Association of Juvenile and Family Court judges to see if there is a majority that want to investigate the issue and then proceed to talk to legislators about potentially raising the legal age for marriage,” he said.

Erin Ryan of the Ohio Women’s Public Policy Network, a coalition of about 25 organizations, said the Dayton Daily News stories shined a light on an often forgotten issue. “I think this series has really helped bring the issue to the forefront.”

Ryan said the group will urge lawmakers to change Ohio law. “This is one of the many antiquated laws that we hope the Legislature will address. I think it’s just something people didn’t realize that this is an issue,” she said.

State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, said: “This shouldn’t be happening. No minor under 16 years of age, because that’s the age of (sexual) consent, should be allowed to marry.”

State Rep. Emilia Sykes, D-Akron said some of the rationale for the existing laws may no longer apply. “It’s 2017. We’re living in a whole different world where some of those things don’t quite exist. So, I think it’s well worth taking a good, hard look at this and making sure we’re protecting young people the best that we can, especially if there is any sense that there is predatory behavior.”

State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said she would consider prohibiting marriages under 16 and making the age to marry the same for males and females. Her biggest concern is protecting minors from exploitation by older adults, she said.

“You can have two 17-year-olds who think they’re madly in love. Okay, you can argue all day is a 17-year-old old enough to make that decision,” Lehner said. “But I don’t think that’s the kind of exploitation that I’d be concerned about. It’d be poor choice making, perhaps, but when you have an older man marrying a very young girl that seems to me where you’re absolutely fraught with opportunities for exploitation.”

Brad Miller, spokesman for House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, said “The speaker will be interested in delving into it too, especially as members are coming back for committees and sessions.”

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