I just returned from back-to-back industry conferences. Each year when I meet new people and say I’m from Idaho, more of them actually have experience with our state. They mention the fishing or talk about how they’d like to visit our beautiful public lands.
This time, though, Idaho found itself back in the national news while I was away. Unfortunately, it was part of a news story about child marriage in the United States. Instead of having the pleasure of talking about the many things that make our state a great place to live, I had to try to explain why Idaho has the highest rate of child marriage in the country.
Really, though, there’s no good explanation for this state of affairs. Rep. Melissa Wintrow led a bipartisan effort to impose a minimum marriage age of 16 in Idaho, but it didn’t make it out of the Idaho House.
Currently, there is no minimum age for marriage in Idaho. Children under the age of 16 can get married with a court order and an exam by a physician. Parental consent is all that’s needed for those aged 16 and 17. The bill proposed earlier this year would have required a judge in addition to parental consent and would have prohibited marriage under the age of 16.
Unfortunately, all of our House representatives from Bonneville County are apparently fine with 13-year-olds getting married, even though the social, mental and emotional development needed for such a relationship isn’t present at that age. At that age, you can’t even get your own bank account, but you can enter into legally binding marriage.
It’s also worth noting that in Idaho a minor can’t consent to sex. But child marriage creates a loophole. What would normally be considered lewd conduct with a minor or rape suddenly becomes completely fine, thanks to child marriage.
Children who end up in marriages like this fall behind in education, emotional and social development and face other issues. They can’t enter into contracts, it’s much more difficult to travel and there are a whole host of other things that they aren’t allowed to do — but they can be entered into this life-altering, very serious relationship. It makes no sense.
The proposed legislation would have made it harder for 16- and 17-year-olds to marry, and that’s a good thing. Even at that age, the idea that you can make a decision to get married, but you can’t even buy a pack of cigarettes or a lottery ticket, is unreal. You can’t vote on issues that will impact your life, but you can enter into this binding relationship that directly impacts every facet of your everyday existence?
In truth, as with all legal arrangements, it makes sense to be 18 before entering into a marriage. But at the very least, here in Idaho, we should impose a minimum marriage age of 16, and make it a little bit harder for minors to wed. After all, we should be protecting our children until they are equipped to make decisions on their own — not abandon them without even the ability to file for divorce from an abusive spouse.