Bill to set minimum marriage age to 18 in Washington state heads to governor

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A law to establish 18 as the minimum marriage age in Washington state is headed to the governor's desk for his signature.

State lawmakers in the House and Senate passed House Bill 1455 this session after the measure stalled in the Senate last year and other bills failed to gain traction in previous years.

This year, the House passed it unanimously on the first day of session. On Friday, the Senate voted to pass the bill with a vote of 48-1. Republican Sen. Jeff Holy, of Spokane, cast the lone no vote.

Supporters of such legislation say it reduces domestic violence and unwanted pregnancies, as well as improves the lives of teens.

“I just think we’ve got to stop the generational trauma from people being forced into lifestyles or marriages that they’re not equipped to take up,” Democrat Rep. Monica Stonier, of Vancouver, who introduced the measure, told The Seattle Times.

Marriage for people younger than 18 was legal in all 50 U.S. states as of 2017, according to the nonprofit organization Unchained At Last. Nearly 300,000 children as young as 10 were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018. Mostly, girls were wed to adult men, the organization said.

In Washington state, 5,048 people younger than age 18 were married between 2000 and 2021, according to the organization. Parents are forcing their children to marry in the majority of instances, according to Unchained At Last.

Currently, 17-year-olds in Washington state can marry with parental consent, and those younger than 17 need approval from a judge.

Oregon’s minimum marriage age is 17 while in Idaho the minimum age is 16, according to the organization.

If Gov. Jay Inslee signs the bill, which is expected, it would take effect in June. Ten other states have prohibited marriages for those under 18, including Minnesota and New York.