BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Lawmakers in the Louisiana House on Sunday refused to set a minimum age to marry in the state, an idea that drew strong opposition from the chamber’s conservatives.
The Senate crafted a bill by Sen. Yvonne Dorsey Colomb, a Baton Rouge Democrat, that would bar anyone under 16 years old from being able to marry in Louisiana, with those who are 16 years old or 17 years old unable to marry someone who is more than four years older than they are.
The House refused that idea, instead rewriting the legislation to continue requiring parental consent for anyone under 18 to marry. A judicial review process would be required before anyone under 16 years old could get married.
The House voted 66-28 for the rewritten version, with several supporters of a strict minimum age backing the bill, hoping they can rework it in the final days of a session that must end Thursday. They call a minimum age a child protection measure that keeps teenagers from marrying sexual predators, citing marriages of teenagers to people decades older.
Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, a New Orleans Republican, said the idea of a 15-year-old getting married was "disturbing." She said a minimum age was "desperately needed" to keep people from "covering up acts of rape as a marriage."
Opponents of a minimum age touted the benefits of marriage. They described people who married young and remain in strong partnerships years later. And they said they don't want to prohibit pregnant teenagers from marrying.
“If they’re both 16 years old, and they both consent to sexual relations, and they’re about to have a baby, why wouldn’t we want them to be married?” said Rep. Nancy Landry, a Lafayette Republican. “Just as a public policy of the state we want children born into wedlock, if possible.”
Landry said marriage offers tax, health care and paternity benefits that shouldn't be dismissed. She said the House debated the bill in a way that made it sound as though every teenager who married was a sex trafficking victim.
"It's really disturbing to me, because a lot of 16-year-olds are very mature," Landry said.
Louisiana law currently requires minors to get parental consent — and a judges' consent under certain circumstances — if they want to get married.
At one point, the House agreed to Hilferty's proposal to set the minimum marriage age at 17. But later during the debate, the House stripped that language and instead rewrote the measure as requested by Rep. Beryl Amedee, a Houma Republican. That was the version that won House passage and was sent back to the Senate.
“Marriage is still a valid and valuable institution,” Amedee said.