Child marriage bill unanimously passes Senate judiciary committee

03/06/2018 12:06 PM

FRANKFORT – A bill which would prohibit individuals under the age of 18 from marrying was unanimously passed by the Senate Standing committee on Judiciary on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 48, sponsored by Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, would establish the legal age of 18 for marriage in Kentucky.

A committee substitute of the bill establishes that individuals who are 17 years of age could get married, but only with their parents permission and judicial approval, provided the person the child is going to marry is not more than 4 years older.

Organizations like the Family Foundation and some legislators had concerns about parents of children under 18 having no say in their children getting married.

Committee chair Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, says the compromise committee sub addressed that issue, and it was something that everybody could live with since a judge would have to give the final okay.

“The original bill removed the involvement of the parent entirely,” Westerfield said. “The sub puts the parent back in but on the front end, but it includes a court process for every one of these petitions.”

The fact that the legislation was not voted on last week brought a firestorm of negative press and publicity not only to the state, but Westerfield and some committee members as well. Most of which Westerfield said was false information.

“At no point were the parties from Survivor’s Corner or The Family Foundation, or the legislators that raised concerns, at odds with one another,” Westerfield said. “There was a concern about protecting the role of parents. That narrative was distorted and perverted to mean something gross that no one in this room believes in or has advocated for.”

Westerfield regrets all of the negative publicity that resulted as a result of the delay in passing the legislation.

“It’s unfortunate that bad narratives were spread, because no one in the room was asking for that,” Westerfield said. “It’s frustrating but that’s part of the process. You deal with that and you move on.”

Martin Cothran of The Family Foundation supported the committee sub since it gives parents the right to be part of the process in a potential marriage of their 17-year-old child.

“The previous version of this bill would have allowed a 17 year-old minor to petition the court and the judge could allow the marriage without the consent of the parents and, in fact, without the parents even knowing about it,” Cothran said.

Donna Pollard, who founded Survivors’ Corner, a non-profit organization focused on providing survivors of sexual exploitation with support, and was a victim of being in a marriage as a child with an adult who was 15 years older than her, was on hand as the legislation that she’d advocated for finally was passed unanimously by the committee.

“I think that are leaders demonstrated their dedication to ensuring that children are protected from going through what I had to go through,” Pollard said.

Pollard feels good that her work advocating for the legislation has led to a number of victims of child marriage to come forward and ask for help.

“I’ve had multiple survivors reaching out to me already, and they have begun to wanting to come forward with their own experiences as well, and so I’m partnering with them on that to make sure it’s done in such a way that it’s not traumatizing to them,” Pollard said. “But now they have the opportunity to get help that they didn’t realize was available to them before.”


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