Senate committee approves bill raising legal age to marry in Kentucky

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- A bill designed to prevent Kentucky’s children from getting married at a young age passed a key hurdle Tuesday in Frankfort. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill 10-0. 

Currently, Kentucky has no minimum age limit for marriage, but anyone under 16 must have permission from a judge.

Senate Bill 48 -- known as the Child Bride Bill -- raises the legal age of marriage in Kentucky without parental consent to 18, and officials won't be able to issue marriage licenses to anyone under the age of 16 regardless of parental approval.

Donna Pollard of Louisville is the force behind the bill. She was coerced into marriage at age 16 to a 29-year-old man whom Pollard said sexually abused and exploited her.

"This is a victory for our children in Kentucky today that they will be able to be protected from being coerced and exploited through child marriage," she said after the vote. 

The committee approved SB 48 March 6 after some changes to the wording. The original bill allowed some 17-year-olds to marry with only the consent of a judge.

The conservative Family Foundation of Kentucky had raised concerns that parents were not involved in the approval process. The new version of the bill requires parental consent for a 17-year-old to wed, although  a judge would still have the final say.

"In the first version of the bill, a minor could petition the court and the court could approve the marriage -- not only without the parents' consent, even if the parents opposed it -- but without them even knowing about it," said Martin Cothran with the Family Foundation of Kentucky. "So this version of the bill takes care of that." 

The bill would require 17-year-olds to show evidence they have had stable housing and a job for at least three months. They also could not marry anyone who is more than four years older than them.

Republican Senator Whitney Westerfield, who chairs the judiciary committee, said the revised bill is a good compromise. 

"Parents are responsible for their kids," Westerfield said. "So there was a way to include both, and that's what we did. Parents are required to give their consent, but the court -- and this is the most critical element -- the court can overrule that consent."

Pollard said judicial approval is key because, "parental consent oftentimes means parental coercion." She said the bill helps protect Kentucky's children.

"As survivors, we can't undo what has been done to us, but we can certainly move forward to make sure that it does not happen  to others," said Pollard.

The bill's primary sponsor is Sen. Julie Raque Adams (R-Louisville). It now goes to the full Senate where it is expected to pass and be forwarded to the House. 

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