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Bill to Ban Child Marriage Runs Into Resistance From Missouri Republicans

Missouri House Republicans Hesitate on Child Marriage Ban Legislation

A bipartisan initiative aimed at banning all child marriages in Missouri faces opposition from some Republicans in the Missouri House, potentially thwarting the bill’s enactment. Authored by Senators Holly Thompson Rehder (R-Scott City) and Lauren Arthur (D-Kansas City), the legislation seeks to eliminate marriage licenses for individuals under 18. Presently, Missouri law permits 16- and 17-year-olds to marry with parental consent, according to The Kansas Star.

The bill received strong support in the GOP-dominated Senate, passing with a 31 to 1 vote last month. However, it has stalled in a House committee with just over a week remaining in this year’s legislative session, which concludes on May 17. Advocates argue the bill’s stagnation highlights outdated perspectives among some legislators.

Senator Arthur criticized the opposition as excuses to “protect predators,” expressing frustration over the resistance. Meanwhile, the committee chair, Rep. Jim Murphy (R-St. Louis area), noted the bill lacks sufficient support within the committee to proceed to the House floor, with seven of the 14 members opposing the change.

Rep. Dean VanSchoiack (R-Savannah), vice chair of the committee, defended the current law by citing personal anecdotes of happily married individuals who wed as minors. VanSchoiack questioned the necessity of government intervention in such personal decisions.

Contrastingly, Rehder, who shared her personal experience of marrying at 15, emphasized the government’s role in setting age limits for marriage. She argued that allowing parents to decide for their children on such life-altering commitments is inappropriate. Rehder remains hopeful that the bill could still pass this session, possibly as an amendment to other legislation.

Additional resistance comes from Rep. Hardy Billington (R-Poplar Bluff), who expressed concerns that prohibiting child marriage could indirectly increase abortion rates among pregnant teenagers, despite Missouri’s stringent abortion laws.

The debate continues as proponents like Rehder advocate for recognizing marriage as a decision suitable only for adults, aiming to shift legislative perspectives on this issue. As the legislative deadline approaches, the future of this bill hangs in balance, reflecting broader societal debates over the rights and protections afforded to minors.