Missouri raised its minimum age to get married from 15 to 16 on Tuesday, closing loopholes that had made the Show-Me State something of a tourist destination for underage marriages.
As KTVI-TV (St. Louis) reports, on Monday Governor Mike Parson signed the law, which went into effect on Tuesday, raising by one year the age at which a bride and groom must be before a marriage license is issued. Further, anyone under the 18 must have the consent of a parent or guardian before getting married in Missouri, and no marriage licenses will be issued if one party in the relationship is under 18 and the other is 21 years old or older.
Parson said that the safety of Missouri’s children must be its top priority.
Two years ago, a KMOV-TV (St. Louis) investigation turned up hundreds of cases of children as young as 15 – almost exclusively girls – getting married in Missouri, usually coming from out-of-state to do so. In 2016, 900 teenagers had come from outside of Missouri to get married within its borders.
Missouri was, until this week, one of 25 states that had either no minimum age for marriage, or an appallingly-low age. But the situation in the Show Me State was unique in that an underage marriage required the signature of only one parent – even if the other parent objected. And according to a March Kansas City Star report, Missouri judges had been known to authorize marriages for brides as young as 12.
Missouri’s lax underage marriage requirements made the state something of a tourist destination for underage marriages.
In one case, for example, a 15-year-old Idaho girl named Brittany got pregnant by her 21-year-old boyfriend in Iowa. There, their relationship amounted to statutory rape, and her boyfriend, Jeremie, was facing statutory rape charges. However, Jeremie could dodge those charges with a marriage license, so Brittany borrowed a white prom dress from a friend, to double as a wedding dress, and she and her family made the 400-mile drive to Missouri.
“I never wanted to get married, ever, like in my life. But I did it anyway, because it was either that or he go to prison, like, forever.”
Other would-be child brides traveled to Missouri from places like Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Florida and every other state in the region: Kansas, Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee to take advantage of the state’s wide-open marriage rules.
At least one Missouri Republican opposed raising the minimum age: Joplin Republican Bill White insisted that the minimum age must remain low so that pregnant teenage girls won’t have to give birth to babies out of wedlock if their families didn’t want it.