Warren bill to end child marriage in Pa. now law

HARRISBURG, May 8 – State Rep. Perry Warren, D-Bucks, announced that his legislation, which prohibits marriage before the age of 18, was signed into law as Act 18 today by Gov. Tom Wolf.

“With Governor Wolf’s signature, Pennsylvania becomes the third state to protect its children by ending child marriage, and sets an example for other states, including Minnesota, whose legislature this week also unanimously voted to end child marriage and where the bill awaits its governor’s signature,” Warren said. “I am honored to be a part of Pennsylvania’s leadership in protecting our children.”

The bipartisan bill, H.B. 360, which was jointly sponsored by Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford/Fulton/Franklin, sets the minimum age at which a marriage license may be issued to 18. Previously under Pennsylvania law, a marriage license could be issued to an applicant younger than 16 with court approval. A marriage license also could have been issued where an applicant is older than 16 but younger than 18 with the consent of a parent or guardian.

Warren said it was the overwhelming support from colleagues on both sides of the aisle in both chambers that helped this bill become law. He said Topper and Sen. John Sabatina worked hard to raise awareness of this child protection issue in the legislature and throughout the state.

“Thank you to Representative Topper and on the Senate side to Senator Sabatina,” Warren said. “The three of us represent different communities – rural, urban and suburban – and we all worked together to protect the children of our commonwealth.”

Topper also thanked Warren for his sponsorship of the bill.

“I would like to thank Representative Warren for his help on this important child protection measure and would also like to applaud the governor for signing this bill into law,” Topper said. “The elimination of child marriage is a huge step against human trafficking and our protection of those who are most vulnerable.”

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.

“I have seen and heard heartwarming stories of couples who had planned weddings and receptions with family and friends, and though they were not able to have a public reception, still celebrated their wedding. The remote marriage license will allow more couples to begin their married life together,” Warren said

Warren 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 said child marriages increase the risk of domestic violence.

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 had been 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. 

Delaware and New Jersey passed similar laws prohibiting child marriage in 2018.