Bill restricting 'childhood marriages' goes into effect in Kentucky

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Monday is the first day clerk's offices throughout the Commonwealth operated under Senate Bill 48, which removes parental permission forms from the clerk's office that allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to marry.

"Any clerk will tell you these forms were often abused, with some parents left out of the process entirely," Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw said.

The hole in the process allowed younger spouses to end up married to someone much older, leaving them sometimes in dangerous and abusive homes.

One of the victims of that process was Donna Pollard, who got married 18 years ago when she was 16.

"He was nearly 15 years my senior, and as a result, I endured severe abuse and exploitation," Pollard said.

From now on, the age to marry in Kentucky is 18 with only one exception: if a 17-year-old can prove to a judge why they should be allowed to wed and obtain a court order. The bill also makes proving your age and identity more stringent.

"Now we know our clerks are no longer going to be put in a position where they have no authority to intervene in situations where they know are exploitive (sic)," Pollard said. 

Sen. Julie Raque Adams pushed the bill through the legislature after learning of Pollard's story. At a news conference Monday, Adams said since the year 2000, 12,000 marriages involved minors, and almost all of them were between a minor and an adult.

"That, to me, is a huge problem," Adams said. "We protect the people most vulnerable in the state of Kentucky, and we were finding, in this instance, it was children getting married to adults."

Holsclaw said Kentucky's previously more open system also attracted people from other states for child marriage licenses.

"I can't tell you the number of times I was told, 'No, this in not going to happen. You are not going to be able to change these antiquated laws,'" she said.

Pollard can't change the abuse she said she endured but may have stopped countless others from becoming child victims.

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