After much criticism, Kentucky 'child bride' bill passes Senate

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - A measure to raise the minimum age for marriage in Kentucky passed the Senate overwhelmingly Wednesday.

The Senate passed the bill 34-3 with Albert Robinson, R- London, John Schickel, R - Union, and Dan Seum, R - Louisville, voting against it.

A vote on a previous version of the so-called "Child Bride Bill" was delayed twice. Critics argued the original bill didn't do enough to protect children. It would have allowed girls 16 and younger to marry if they are pregnant and a judge approves, which is allowed by Kentucky's current law.

The new version of Senate Bill 48 calls for making 18 the legal age to marry. It does provide a process to marry at age 17 with approval from a parent and a judge. The revised bill also bans marriage for anyone under 17, regardless of the circumstances.

According to committee members and Senate Bill 48 advocates, since the year 2000, Kentucky has issued marriage licenses to several stand-out cases, such as a 13-year-old girl who married a 33-year-old man, a 15-year-old girl who married a 52-year-old man, and a 17-year-old girl who married a 70-year old man.

A vote on the bill was delayed twice, but committee members say that was to add more protections for vulnerable children and teens instead of taking safeguards away. One change that was added since the last delay was a private, on-camera interview with a judge, should a 17-year-old want to get married. The provision allows 17-year-olds the privacy to speak freely, as a judge digs into the marriage request and looks for possible red flags.

After the Tuesday committee vote, WKYT's Emilie Arroyo spoke with Martin Cothran, a member of the Family Foundation organization that focuses on conservative efforts in Kentucky. The group requested certain modifications to the bill's wording, resulting in at least one committee vote-delay.

A nationwide backlash erupted over the weekend, as critics accused the group of advocating for parental rights that would allow adults to hand their children off to abusers or pedophiles.

Cothran says the Family Foundation was looking out for parental rights, but ones that would protect rather than exploit children. He explains that his group was focused purely on parental involvement in marriage requests involving a 17-year-old and never wanted, nor advocated for marriages involving teens any younger. Cothran says rewording of Senate Bill 48 now ensures that parents know and consent to a marriage involving their 17-year-old, opposed to judge-approval only.

The bill now goes to the Kentucky House.

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