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New child marriage bill gets public hearing

Politics

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BOISE (KIVI)— Data shows Idaho has the highest rate of child marriage in the US. And as it stands now, a child under 16 can get married to an adult as long as they have both a parent’s and the court’s consent, but the legislature is looking to make a change.

A bill addressing this very issue died on the House floor at the hands of Republican lawmakers in 2019, but now those same representatives are bringing back their own version of a bill with some key differences.

“Unfortunately a false narrative had been put forward, that I just wanted to marry young girls off to old men,” said Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls. “That was never ever the case and it was actually pretty upsetting to have that narrative being put out there when really what we were trying to do was protect parental rights.”

Republican legislators Ehardt and Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, said their issue with last year’s bill, brought forward by Democratic Representative Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, was that it added a requirement for court approval for 16 and 17-year-olds to marry– when they think parental rights should be enough.

“Because I think, at this age, the kids are older and they’re in a better position to have a say,” said Ehardt.

Like Wintrow’s bill, this new bill says there are no cirumstances under which a child under 16 can marry.

Sixteen and 17-year-olds would be able to marry someone no more than three years older — which would finally align the law with Idaho’s statutory rape laws.

Last year, the house voted down Wintrow’s bill 39 to 28. Now she has some questions for the latest sponsors on the topic.

“The question for me, is what if the parent or guardian is the one that is coercing the child into marriage?” said Wintrow.

Ehardt and Zollinger said they’re hoping parents of 16 and 17-year-olds would make the right decision.

“What we’re trying to do is find common ground as we work to protect parental rights,” said Ehardt.

Only one person testified — Lori Burelle, testified, and she did so cautiously in favor of it — saying she applauds the idea of a minimum age requirement, but thinks it should be 18.

The House Judiciary committee will vote on Bill 466 on Tuesday.

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