Bipartisan bill to end child marriage in Pa. sent to governor

HARRISBURG, April 29 – State Reps. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford/Fulton/Franklin, and Perry Warren, D-Bucks, announced that their legislation, which would prohibit marriage before the age of 18, unanimously passed the House today and is now on its way to the governor’s desk.

“Simply put, House Bill 360 is a child protection measure. Child marriage typically involves a teenage girl, whose life hasn’t even begun, being forced or coerced into marrying an older man,” Topper said. “Some of the many stories I’ve heard from survivors of child marriage involve these girls becoming victims a second time. In these instances, they are modern day slaves in the human trafficking trade.”

“With the abolition of child marriage, Pennsylvania is safeguarding its children,” Warren said. “This bill will help ensure the long-term health of children and improve their health and educational and job opportunities.”

Warren added, “I am deeply gratified that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in both chambers came together to protect Pennsylvania’s children, and special thanks to Representative Topper and Senator John Sabatina who worked so hard to raise awareness of this child protection issue in the legislature and throughout state.”

Topper said studies have shown that a child who marries before 18 is often not in control of the decision, and a child under 18 does not have the legal rights of an adult. 

Warren added that child marriages increase the risk of domestic violence.

Under current Pennsylvania law, a marriage license may be issued to an applicant younger than 16 with court approval. A marriage license also may be issued where an applicant is older than 16 but younger than 18 with the consent of a parent or guardian.

The Topper/Warren bill (H.B. 360) would repeal those exceptions and set the minimum age at which a marriage license may be issued to 18.   

In light of the Covid-19 epidemic, an amendment was added to the bill that would allow applicants for a marriage license to forward an affidavit instead of appearing in person when the office of Register of Wills has been closed due to the declaration of a disaster emergency.

Warren said the issue of child marriage was brought to his attention in 2017 by two constituents, including Newtown Borough Councilor Tara Grunde-McLaughlin.

Twenty-seven states have laws that do not specify an age below which a child cannot marry. Pennsylvania is one of these states. Marriage license data from 2000 to 2010 reveals that in 38 states, more than 167,000 children were married – almost all of them girls, some as young as 12 – to men 18 or older. 

If the bill is signed into law, Pennsylvania will be the third state to ban child marriage. Delaware and New Jersey passed similar laws in 2018.

The bill now goes to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk for his signature.