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Missouri Senate passes bill barring 16- and 17-year-olds from marrying

The Missouri State Capitol on Thursday, May 11, 2023, in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The bill that would ban child marriage now goes to the House.

In an almost unanimous vote, Missouri senators passed legislation Thursday that would ban child marriage in the state.

The move would raise the minimum age of marriage in Missouri to 18 with no exceptions.

Senators voted 31-1 to pass the bill. It now goes to the House. The lone no vote came from Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, who didn’t comment on the bill on the Senate floor.

Under current Missouri law, minors who are 16 or 17 can get married to someone under 21 if they have parental consent. Marriage between a minor and someone 21 or older is prohibited by state law.

Senators gave initial approval to the bill on the chamber floor on Wednesday, with no objections voiced.

Sen. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, referenced her own marriage at age 15.

“I can unequivocally say that it's a terrible idea. And you're not old enough to make those type of decisions,” said Rehder, who sponsored the bill.

Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, filed her own bill on the matter before she realized Rehder had already introduced hers.

“We're not telling someone that they can’t marry the person they love. We're just saying that children aren’t allowed to engage in legal contracts until they're 18,” Arthur said.

Missouri lawmakers raised the minimum age from 15 to 16 in 2018. Rehder said the 2018 law made a difference.

“From 2000 to 2018, we had over 8,000 children get married in Missouri. Since we changed the law, there's been about 300,” Rehder said. “And so even though the number isn't that great, as far as compared to that 8,000, we got a little further, but we didn't complete the policy process, which says this is an adult decision.”

Arthur said after the vote Thursday there is time left in the legislative session to get the bill through the House.

“We can't take anything for granted that it's going to fly through,” Arthur said. “But we're happy to work on it and make sure that this is a House priority.”

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.