Pennsylvania legislature passes bill to end child marriage

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — "'Child marriage? Is that a thing?'"

That's a common question asked of Bucks County State Rep. Perry Warren. "And in fact it is," he answered, "in the United States and even in Pennsylvania. But no more, at least in Pennsylvania when Gov. Wolf signs this bill."

The state legislature unanimously passed a bill to end child marriage last week. As it sits on Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk, Pennsylvania could become the third state to end child marriage.

"We’ve been talking about this bill for three years now," said Warren. "I first introduced it in April of 2017."

Warren said due to the coronavirus pandemic, an amendment related to marriage was added onto his bill when it was brought up for a vote.

"Specifically legislation that will allow people who want to get married to apply for a marriage license remotely rather than having to go to the county clerk's office," he clarified.

Warren said the bill "will allow couples, adults, adults, and only adults who want to get married, planned to get married, hope to get married. They may not have the wedding and the celebration that they had hoped to during this time, but they’ll still be able to carry through their plans to begin a marriage together."

Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained At Last, an organization dedicated to ending child marriage, said Warren's bill cuts out loopholes written in the law allowing a child of any age to marry with a judge's approval and parental consent. 

"Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states that doesn't track marriage ages with marriage license data," she said. "We do have U.S. Census data that shows that as of 2014, an estimated 2,323 children age 15 to 17 living in Pennsylvania had already been married."

Legislature to end child marriage is pending in nine states, according to Reiss. Currently, Delaware and New Jersey are the only states that have laws protecting children from getting married.

"It's three states down, only 47 to go in the push to end child marriage in the United States," she said. "The fact that Pennsylvania was able to do this despite the fact that theres a global pandemic going on is just tremendous."

The Pennsylvania legislature is the first state to unanimously pass the bill.