An investigation by the Dayton Daily News into child marriage is prompting state lawmakers to introduce a bill that would bump up the legal marriage age to 18 for both males and females and allow 17-year-olds to marry with court approval.
Current Ohio law requires brides to be at least 16 and grooms to be at least 18, but exceptions are made for younger, pregnant teens if they have parental consent and juvenile court approval. That effectively means there is no legal minimum age for marriage in Ohio.
State Rep. Jeff Rezabek, R-Clayton, a juvenile and family law attorney, said the bill would equalize the age requirement for males and females and only allow 17-year-olds to marry with court approval. Pregnancy will not be a factor to be considered under the law when approving marriage for 17-year-olds, he said.
A similar bill is pending in the Ohio Senate.
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Between 2000 and 2014, 4,443 girls age 17 or younger were married in Ohio, including 59 who were 15 or younger. Also during that time, 301 boys age 17 or younger were married, including 25 to women who were age 21 or older.
A national study in 2012 found that American women who marry before their 18th birthday trail those who delay marriage in educational attainment, mental and physical health and financial security and 80 percent of the marriages did not last.
Unchained At Last, a national advocacy group seeking to end underage marriage, reported that marriage before 18 is legal in most states, though several are considering restrictions. Unchained At Last advocates for a total ban on marriage before 18.