Ohio Bill Addressing Child Marriage Close to Becoming Law

Despite the U.S. State Department declaring marriage before the age of 18 a human rights abuse, child marriage – or marriage in which one or both parties are under the age of 18 – is a reality in the United States. Due to these loopholes, a staggering number of child marriages have taken place in Ohio – and girls are disproportionately affected. A Dayton Daily News investigation found that between the years 2000 and 2015, nearly 4,400 girls aged 17 years and younger — some even as young as 14 — were married. And of these marriages, 91.4 percent were minor girls marrying adult men. Girls who marry young are more likely to drop out of high school, and four times less likely to finish college, resulting in a lifetime of diminished earning potential as a result. Current bi-partisan legislation moving through the state legislature would make instrumental changes to the state marriage laws to help prevent forced or coerced marriage of minors.

Overview of the Bill

Ohio House Bill 511 is a bi-partisan proposal that would raise the marriage age to 18, with certain exceptions for 17-year-old, such as :

  • Require documentary proof of age; instituting an age “floor” of 17;
  • Limiting the age difference between a 17-year-old and the intended spouse to no more than 4 years;
  • Eliminating pregnancy as an express reason for an exception to the general rule that you must be 18 to marry, and removing inconsistencies with statutory rape laws;
  • Involving a judge in all cases and improve judicial approval conditions, putting the minor’s best interest as priority; and 
  • Ensuring that all minors seeking judicial approval are appointed an attorney to serve as a guardian ad litem and strengthening the judicial process

Our Managing Director, Erin Ryan, testified in support of HB 511 at its second hearing last week on Thursday, November 30. She noted that while the most effective legislation solution is to set the marriage age at 18, without exceptions, it is crucial for the legislature to pass HB 511, with the important safeguards included for 17-year olds. Here is a preview of her testimony: 

“Current state law requires that boys be at least 18 years old to marry. For girls, however, that legal age is set at 16, as long as parental consent is given on the marriage license. While this disconnect in the treatment of boys and girls is troubling enough, there are loopholes in Ohio law that leave the door open to far more egregious abuse. Ohio is one of a handful of states that have exceptions in place to allow girls under the age of 16 to marry in circumstances if they are pregnant and receive parental and judicial consent. If these exceptions are met, there is no legal “age floor” at which a child cannot be married, meaning that girls of any age could be married.

Due to these loopholes, a staggering number of child marriages have taken place in Ohio – and girls are disproportionately affected. An overwhelming 93.6 percent of the minors who were wed in the state between the years 2000 and 2015 were girls, and often they were marrying adult men much older than them. State data on marriages in this fifteen-year period found that nearly 4,400 girls aged 17 years and younger — some even as young as 14 — were married. And of these marriages, 91.4 percent were minor girls marrying adult men. This study found that this issue of minors wedding was not unique to a certain part of the state; these marriages were documented in cities, rural towns, and suburban areas.

Evidence suggests that the age differences in most of these marriages between teen girls and adult men can lead to unequal power and control dynamics, creating an environment rife with domestic violence and abuse, which often continues throughout the marriage. Women who marry as minors are significantly more likely to have mental and physical health issues as a result of the abuse they suffer, and girls marrying under 18 are three times more likely to experience domestic violence. Due to the age of the child at the time of the marriage or the age difference between the child and their spouse, some of these situations constituted statutory rape under Ohio’s state law. However, because of the outdated laws dictating marriage in Ohio, these cases lead to marriage licenses, not statutory rape charges.”

Current outdated marriage laws in our state allow for forced or coerced marriage of minors to happen – and young women and girls are at particular risk. Child marriage has been shown to have devastating consequences for the health, safety, economic security, and educational attainment of minors. Ohio House Bill 511 would take significant steps forward in addressing the issue in our state. Read our full testimony here.

What’s Next?

The bill has already passed through the House chamber and is currently moving through the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it has received two hearings already during the lame duck session. The Committee just held a second hearing on the bill on Monday, December 3rd for all testimony and it will hold a third hearing for all testimony tomorrow, Tuesday, December 

Contact the Committee and urge them to vote ‘yes’ if the bill is called for a vote during Tuesday’s hearing:

Hearing Schedule

  • Monday, 2:00 pm, South Hearing Rm. – 2nd Hearing – All testimony
  • Tuesday, 10:15 am, North Hearing Rm. – 3rd Hearing-All testimony-Possible vote

More information

Read the text of House Bill 511

For more general information on House Bill 511

View the hearing schedule and contact information for members of the House Judiciary Committee

Read Erin Ryan’s full testimony here on behalf of the Ohio Women’s Public Policy Network

Read all other testimony from hearings on House Bill 561, including many of our coalition partners

Read our Fact Sheet on Child Marriage in Ohio