A proposal in the state legislature would change the procedure for issuing marriage licenses to underage individuals.

State Representative Jean Evans (R-Manchester)

The measure would change the current practice of granting 15-to-17 year-olds a license with parental consent, by requiring a court to make the final judgement.

The bill’s sponsor, House Republican Jean Evans of Manchester, says it’s meant to prevent Missouri from being a travel destination for marriage trafficking and forced unions.

She mentioned a recent episode where a teacher in his 40’s ran off with a 15-year-old student, and the last item on his computer was a google search for “young marriage”.

“I had a Recorder of Deeds from Mississippi County, which is in the Bootheel, contact me and say that he was being contacted by a male in his 40’s wanting to bring his 15-year-old fiancé to Mississippi County to get married, and wanted to know if he could just bring an affidavit for parent permission” said Evans.  “He (the recorder) alerted authorities, and they’re trying to track him (the teacher) down through the computer.”

The measure was approved in the House by an overwhelmingly bipartisan 139-1 margin.  Evans next presented her proposal to a Senate committee, where she brought up another instance where a Recorder of Deeds was confronted with an underage participant.

“A Recorder told me about a young woman who had just turned 16 and was eight months pregnant.  And her mother brought her in to marry her to the 43-year-old father.  So she has to issue a marriage license, but she also called the authorities.”

During the Senate committee hearing, Democrat Maria Chappelle-Nadal of University City wondered how the measure would affect people from different cultures.

“My family is a very close to immigrant and refugee communities” said Chappelle-Nadal.  “In a specific case, we had some refugees who have a whole different kind of practice in life, and they get married at 15-years-old.”

The measure wouldn’t outlaw underage marriages, but would require a judge to determine that the union would be in the best interest of parties involved.  It explicitly calls on a court to determine there’s no evidence of coercion or abuse of either person entering the marriage.

The bill also forbids the issuing of marriage licenses to anyone twenty-one or older if the other person is under 17.  Sexual relations between such parties currently constitutes statutory rape in Missouri.

Evans is a freshman state representative who hopes her bipartisan legislation becomes law.