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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would raise the minimum age cutoff for legal marriage in Utah won approval from the Utah House of Representatives on Friday.
It's a watered-down version of a bill that would have initially raised the minimum age from 15 to 18, as originally proposed by HB234's sponsor, Rep. Angela Romero. Instead, the bill would raise Utah's legal age to 16, while requiring 16- and 17-year-olds to marry only with permission of parents and a juvenile court judge.
The House voted 55-6 to advance the bill to the Senate — but after an amendment to include a marriage ban for 16- and 17-year-olds when the gap between the couple exceeds seven years.
Six Republicans voted against the bill but did not say why or argue against it on the House floor.
Romero, D-Salt Lake City, called the bill a "bipartisan effort" meant as a way "for us to protect children" while also recognizing there may be some "special circumstances" when 16- and 17-year-olds will marry with parent and court permission.
Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, lauded the bill and its amendment, telling of how "for many years" her district "had a couple of fundamentalist religious groups" and she's "known children in these situations."
"Without disparaging these communities, I just want to say that I can tell you lots of stories where I heard that very young girls are being coerced or forced to marry in situations that they did not approve," Poulson said.
Utah should recognize "we want our children to be able to be children" and have opportunities to get an education before marrying, Poulson said, noting she herself married at age 22, and "I was really young and dumb."
"Certainly this is something I think the state of Utah should make a statement about," Poulson said.
The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.