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Senate, House preparing different bills on marriage age

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

The legislative debate over the minimum age for marriage in Maryland continues as cross-filed bills banning marriage for anyone younger than 18 were both amended in committee before moving forward in their respective chambers.

The House Judiciary Committee adopted a favorable report on House Bill 191 with a 17-2 vote Wednesday but amended the bill to ban marriage for individuals younger than 17 rather than 18. The original bill, sponsored by Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, would have eliminated exceptions that allowed individuals as young as 15 to be married.

The bill was special ordered to the evening session Thursday so Del. Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore and Harford counties, could propose an amendment allowing a 16-year-old to marry if their fiance is an active duty military member. The amendment was rejected, and the bill passed second and third reading Friday.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, meanwhile, also issued a favorable report Wednesday on the cross-filed Senate Bill 670 but amended the bill to ban marriage for 15-year-olds and maintaining the exceptions for 16- and 17-year-olds to marry if they are pregnant or have a parent’s permission.

Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and the committee chair, told the Senate on Friday the amendment was the only compromise acceptable to a majority of his committee. Zirkin sponsored the bill to raise the minimum age to 18.

“There was clear consensus in our committee to get rid of the idea of 15-year-olds being able to get married,” he said. “There was some conversation to make it 16, some conversation to make it 17 and some to make it 18.”

Atterbeary said Friday she hopes a conference committee, if appointed, will agree to raise the age to 17.

Several states have recently passed laws restricting marriage of underage individuals. Florida and Kentucky passed bills this month banning marriage for anyone younger than 17. Legislation in Tennessee is pending after being killed then revived in committee.

“This is a national issue going on,” Zirkin said. “Every state is taking a look at this. There are some states that are even, if you can believe this, lower than we are, where kids under the age of 15 can actually get married, which I find preposterous.”

Some opponents to a flat prohibition on marriage for anyone younger than 18 expressed interest in an emancipation statute that would establish a process for emancipating mature and self-sufficient minors. Atterbeary introduced an emancipation bill last month but withdrew it after the Judiciary Committee gave an unfavorable report.

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