Invoice to lift minimal age requirement for marriage halted, regardless of bipartisan help

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RALEIGH, North Carolina (WLOS) – The North Carolina General Assembly, despite bipartisan support, halted a bill to raise the minimum age for marriage from 14 to 18.

North Carolina and Alaska are the only remaining states 14-year-olds are allowed to marry, and North Carolina is becoming a destination state for child marriage for this reason.

Proponents of SB35 / HB41 said they believe they have lost the battle to change the law for at least this year when it comes to raising the minimum age.

A new Republican proposal would ban teen marriages if a teen marries a much older person. The bill would limit the age distribution to four years so that, for example, a 16-year-old could not marry a 20-year-old or even a 21-year-old.

In North Carolina, the current law that allows 14- and 15-year-olds to marry also requires them to be pregnant.

Otherwise, the minimum age for marriage in the state is 16 years.

“I am convinced that our early champions, both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, intended to pass a strong bill that would better align age with national trends,” said Casey Swegman, manager of Forced Marriage initiative project with the non-profit Tahirih Justice Center.

Regarding 14-year-old marriages, Swegman did not have exact numbers for North Carolina, but said that many cases where a 14-year-old girl was pregnant were indicative of legal rape and current marriage law was applied to avoid criminal charges .

“The International Center for Women’s Studies has identified cases where the pregnancy and age of the person who made these minors pregnant were indications of legal rape and a marriage license instead of criminal charges,” said Swegman.

The International Center for Women’s Studies analyzed child marriage certificate data from 50 counties who participated in research across North Carolina.

Buncombe County Deeds Register Drew Reisinger was heavily involved in the research and was due to testify before the Senate Wednesday to deliver his county’s research. However, he was then told that there was not enough time available.

“We had bipartisan support – everyone from Chuck Edwards to Tim Moffitt,” said Reisinger. “It came down to a person whose name is Phil Berger.”

Republican Senator Phil Berger is the Senate’s pro tempo leader.

“He ruined the whole thing because he did not support the bill because of his religious beliefs,” said Reisinger of Berger.

Senator Berger has not returned News 13’s request for comment. News 13 emailed the senator and his assistant but received no response.

“I am no longer hopeful that we will achieve something this year that will protect children to a considerable extent,” said Reisinger.

Senator Chuck Edwards disagreed, however.

“By closing the age gap, we’re reducing the likelihood of human trafficking and we’re in a better place than without that bill,” said Edwards.

“Research we reviewed shows that 92% of child marriages involve someone much older, creating a sex trafficking market in North Carolina. While this calculation is not perfect, it is making great strides towards eliminating this terrible problem. “

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