WA House passes bill that sets minimum age requirement for marriage at 18 years old

Jan 9, 2024, 6:40 AM

minimum age marriage...

Samantha Castrejon (L) and Yvan Devergranne pose for photos during their wedding ceremony. (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

(Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The first day of the state of Washington’s 2024 legislative session saw the House of Representatives approve a bill establishing the age of 18 as the minimum age for obtaining a marriage license.

The legislation, designed to protect young individuals, redefines marriage as a civil contract between two individuals, both of whom must have reached the minimum age and possess the necessary capability.

Under the bill, before issuing a marriage license, the county auditor must ensure that each applicant submits an affidavit confirming they are at least 18 years old.

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An exception does allow a 17-year-old applicant to obtain a marriage license with written consent from that person’s father, mother or legal guardian. Moreover, any marriage entered into where either party lacked the legal capacity to consent due to not meeting the minimum age requirement is rendered voidable by the underage party.

Marriages involving individuals under the age of 17 are deemed void, except in cases where a Superior Court judge waives the age requirement based on demonstrated necessity.

In essence, any marriage involving individuals under 18 contracted after the bill’s effective date will be considered void.

Notably, the discretion previously granted to superior court judges to waive age requirements and county auditors to issue marriage licenses to 17-year-old applicants has been removed under this legislation.

Democratic Rep. Monica Stonier, the bill’s sponsor, viewed its passage as a significant step towards prioritizing the protection and well-being of young individuals.

“Young people who are married before they are legal adults do not have access to the full range of legal services, counseling therapy, financial support they might need if they were in a coercive and abusive relationship,” Stonier emphasized.

The bill has garnered support from House Republicans. Advocates see it as a crucial measure in preventing underage marriages and safeguarding the rights of minors. Now, the legislation progresses to the Senate.

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Child marriage, while legal in Washington, is not uncommon, as noted in testimony in 2023 when the bill was first introduced. Testimony revealed that between 2000 and 2018, more than 4,800 minors between the ages of 15 and 17 were married in Washington. Of these, 80% were girls married to adult men who were, on average, four years older.

If the bill becomes law, it will not void marriages of individuals under 18 before the bill was enacted.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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WA House passes bill that sets minimum age requirement for marriage at 18 years old