Alaska Legislature

Alaska House passes bill to end marriage for 14-15 year olds

JUNEAU — The Alaska House passed legislation Wednesday that would repeal a provision of law that allows a court to grant permission for someone as young as 14 to marry.

The repeal provision was adopted last week as representatives weighed amendments to a bill dealing with witness requirements for marriage. A vote on the bill was not taken until Wednesday, when it passed 27-13. The measure next goes to the Senate for consideration.

Marriage bill vote

The bill was originally written by Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, to reduce the number of required marriage witnesses from two to one.

“This bill is a real support for our tourism industry and support for folks that have real businesses connected with supporting folks who are getting married, including those coming from out of state,” Claman said.

Last week, the House voted 33-3 to amend the bill to repeal a section of law that spells out a process under which a court can grant permission for someone as young as 14 years old to marry. It leaves in place another provision of law that allows for 16- and 17-year-olds to marry with parental consent.

On Wednesday, a member of the House’s Republican minority sought a technical amendment to rewrite a portion of the bill dealing with marriage verification. Other Republicans wanted to reopen debate on all possible amendments, which could have allowed further discussion of the child-marriage ban. A majority of lawmakers opposed further debate, and the bill advanced to a final vote without the technical amendment.

In the final vote, all 13 “no” votes came from members of the House’s Republican minority. It wasn’t clear whether their opposition was due to the technical amendment or another reason.

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Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, was the only one of those 13 to speak against the bill on the House floor and said he believes it could create a problem in situations where “you may have two individuals disagreeing about whether they were husband or wife.”

Eastman said it was not a hypothetical and that he has seen it happen. Claman said he is aware of no such instance in Alaska.

Speaking to the child-marriage aspect of the bill, Eastman said he wasn’t sure about its applications on emancipated minors.

The latest annual report from the state health department’s vital records section shows there were no marriages involving individuals younger than 15 between 2016 and 2020 in Alaska. It is unclear from the report how many or if any 15-year-olds had married during that period since the report shows age ranges. It shows there were 1,672 marriages involving a partner between the ages of 15 and 19 between 2016 and 2020.

According to Unchained At Last, a group that seeks to end forced and child marriage, six states have set 18 as the minimum age for marriage.

The ADN’s James Brooks contributed to this article.

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