Idaho Republicans Under Fire For Killing Bill That Would Have Ended Child Marriage In The State

A legislature in session.
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Republicans in Idaho are coming under fire after killing a bill that would have ended the practice of child marriage in the state, which has the highest rate of child marriage in the country.

As the Idaho Statesman reported, a bipartisan bill was put forward to the state legislature that would have set the minimum age to marry at 16. As Idaho law currently stands, anyone under the age of 16 can get married if a judge consents, and children aged 16 or 17 only need the permission of their parents. The new proposal would have required 16 and 17-year-olds to give their own consent, the consent of their parents, and a court in order to be married. Those under 16 would not be allowed to legally marry.

But the measure was shot down by the state’s Republicans, many of whom voiced concerned that it was an overreach of the government to determine that children could not be married.

“I do not think courts should be involved in marriage at all,” said Bryan Zollinger, a Republican representative from Idaho Falls. “I don’t believe there should be a license required to get married. I think two willing people should be able to go and get married.”

The failure to pass the measure drew widespread criticism for Republicans, with several outlets, including Patheos, taking aim at the state’s Republican caucus for standing in the way of a practice deemed to be abusive and troubling.

It also drew criticism from Democrats who pushed for the measure, including State Rep. Melissa Wintrow. She took to Facebook to say that the bill’s defeat was a “sad day” for Idaho and that she was shocked that Republicans refused to support the measure.

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“What I thought was a modest compromise to try to prevent coercion and potential abuse of children, by raising the floor on the marriage age to 16 – let me repeat, 16 – turned out to be too progressive for too many of my republican colleagues,” she wrote. “Arguments against: parental rights and a disagreement with aligning marriage laws with the statutory rape laws. I’m at a loss.”

Idaho has the highest rate of child marriage in the country, the Idaho Statesman noted. Advocacy groups note that more than 4,000 children were married in Idaho between 2000 and 2010, the youngest of which was 13-years-old.

Idaho’s child marriage bill had the support of all 14 Democrats, but the majority of the state’s 56 Republicans voted it down, with a final tally of 39-28. Three representatives abstained from voting.