Laramie lawmaker reintroduces anti-child marriage bill

CHEYENNE — After a bill banning child marriages narrowly failed in the Legislature last year, a Laramie representative has introduced a similar bill that would effectively prevent any child in Wyoming under the age of 18 from getting married.

Wyoming law sets the legal age for marriage at 16, though a child younger than that can still get married if given approval by a parent or guardian and approved by a judge.

House Bill 67, introduced by Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, would move that age limit to 18 in nearly every scenario. While last year’s bill provided no exceptions, this legislation would allow a minor who has been fully emancipated in the court system the right to marry.

Pelkey said he reintroduced the bill as part of an effort to eliminate child marriage nationwide.

“You can’t buy dry ice in Wyoming unless you’re 18 years old, but you can get married before the age of 18,” Pelkey said. “All I’m asking is that we put a barrier up.”

Last year’s bill, which sailed out of the House Judiciary Committee by a 8-1 vote, stalled on the House floor, where lawmakers rejected the proposal by a narrow 31-26 vote. During those discussions, some critics said the law could take away parental freedoms, a point that Pelkey said was rather bizarre.

“The only way my bill would infringe on parental rights is if you regarded your children as property that you could negotiate away to somebody else,” Pelkey said. “The right to marry should solely involve the individuals who are getting married.”

Pelkey noted child marriages don’t occur frequently in Wyoming, but added it’s a bigger issue in states like Utah and Wyoming.

“What we’ve got to do is create this national network to stop that exploitation and stop venue-shopping for those people who want to get involved in that,” Pelkey said.

Because the bill will be introduced during a budget session, it will need a two-thirds majority vote in its originating chamber to be discussed. The Wyoming Legislature will begin its budget session Feb. 10 at the state Capitol.