North Carolina lawmakers unanimously voted to raise the legal age of marriage in the state from 14 to 16, taking a step to further restrict child marriage but stopping short of outlawing it.
The legislation, passed by the state Senate on Tuesday afternoon, August 17, and by the House last week, bars children under the age of 16 from getting married and requires an age gap of four years or smaller between a 16- or 17-year-old and the person they marry.
The bill will now be sent to North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to sign.
Current law has no minimum age gap between the spouses, and children as young as 14 can get married if they become pregnant and if a judge allows it. Parental permission has otherwise been required beginning at 16.
House and Senate legislators joined women’s rights advocates and child protection groups this year to raise the marriage age. They had tried to raise it to 18 with no exceptions, but some lawmakers remained comfortable keeping certain marriages involving a child or two youths as an option.
“While the legislation falls short of raising the age of marriage to 18, the governor supports this step toward ending child marriage in North Carolina and more protections for children,” Cooper spokesperson Mary Scott Winstead wrote in an email.
With adjoining states raising the minimum to 16 or 17 in recent years, North Carolina has become a destination locale for out-of-state couples in which one marriage applicant is a minor, officials and bill advocates said.
Alaska is the only other state whose law expressly allows marriages as young as 14, according to the group Unchained at Last. Thirteen states currently allow children under 16 to wed, nine of which have no minimum age, relying instead on case law or a judge’s rulings.