By Lauren Heffker and Tryfon Boukouvidis
LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — A House committee advanced a bill on Tuesday that would set 16 as the minimum age for marriage in Louisiana. A Senate committee also supported stricter regulations for adoption background checks and lower adoption fees in some circumstances.
Louisiana currently does not have a legal minimum age for marriage. Minors need parental consent to get married, and if they are under 16 they need parental consent and the authorization from a juvenile court judge.
Under the proposed law, sponsored by Sen. Yvonne Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, minors aged 16 and 17 seeking to get married would have to obtain the permission of a parent and a judge.
Some committee members did not agree that 16 was old enough to make this important choice and contended that 18 would be the appropriate age.
Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, and Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Pineville, advocated for raising the age to 18.
Referring to a bill that was struck down last week, Magee asked why lawmakers had supported a proposal that would have raised the minimum smoking age to 21, but not a child marriage ban.
Louisiana House lawmakers last Thursday voted down a proposal for a higher smoking age. The bill would have raised the smoking age from 18 to 21 for tobacco, alternative nicotine or vaping products.
“We want to trust [minors] to make the most important decision of their entire lives when their brains aren’t even fully formed yet,” Magee said in the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure. “I think it’s very shortsighted of us. The more lightly we take it, the less serious people [will] take it,” he added.
The committee also approved an amendment to the marriage age bill that would limit the possible age difference to two years, instead of four. Legislators, including Magee, voiced concern at the idea of a 16 year old being able to marry a 20 year old under the proposed law.
“It’s not a perfect bill and we don’t live in a perfect world, but I think it’s a good start,” Johnson said about the amendment after the meeting.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreed that certain circumstances, such as the right to receiving military benefits, would warrant for underage spouses to get married to enlisted members.
The proposal previously passed the Senate floor in a 22-15 vote after it was amended to set the minimum age at 16.
During the committee hearing, Colomb said that 16 was the compromise chosen because it is the age required to get a driver’s license in the state.
Tigers Against Trafficking, a student organization at LSU, as well as The Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families, and Morgan Lamandre, legal director of the Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response Center, spoke in favor of the bill.
Similar legislation to enact a minimum marriage age was proposed during last year’s legislative session but did not have enough support to advance.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen a committee say, ‘this isn’t good enough,’” said Susan Nelson, executive director of the Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families, in an interview after the hearing.
The bill would also allow the state to study the effects of child marriage on minors, Nelson said.
Between 2000 and 2010, a PBS-Frontline report shows that 4,532 minors were legally married in Louisiana.
Louisiana’s neighboring states already have laws on when children or minors can get married. Texas has set a minimum age of 16 and requires the consent of a judge. In Mississippi, parents need to give permission if their children–men aged 17 and women aged 15–want to marry. In Arkansas minors can marry at 17 with parental consent.
Louisiana’s marriage age bill now moves to the House floor for final passage.
Meanwhile legislators in the Senate Judiciary B Committee advanced bills that would extend adoption background checks and limit adoption fees.
A bill by Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, would set a maximum of $150 for in-state adoption filing fees and limit the service of the process fee to $30 per petition for state agency adoptions.
A proposal by Kenny Cox, D-Natchitoches, would provide for the extension of criminal background checks to include people directly or indirectly employed by state therapeutic group homes and child care institutions, in addition to adoption applicants.
Both bills now move to the Senate floor.