New law cracks down on legal age to marry in Missouri

ST. LOUIS - Big change is on the way for Missouri’s marriage law. Missouri is known as one of the easiest states in the nation for teens to get married but now that’s about to change.

A civil ceremony soon won't be so easy for teens in Missouri.

“This is been a real problem. Missouri is actually one of the capitals in the country for child abuse and trafficking in part because you could essentially legalize statutory rape by getting a marriage license,” says Missouri Representative Peter Merideth.

He is a supporter of the ‘Raise the Age’ bill that was signed into law by Governor Mike Parson.

It goes into effect on Tuesday, then no one under 16 can get married in Missouri, with or without permission from the court.

People under 18 still need permission from a parent or guardian.

Another part of this new law though, mandates that no one that’s 21 or older can marry someone less than 17 years old.

“Anytime there’s a huge gap in maturity you run the risk in that relationship that it’s going to be unbalanced so then you have to question why what’s bringing these two people together and unfortunately some people will use that gap to take advantage of someone who is vulnerable,” says Heidi Harbin Safe Connections Adolescent Clinical Manager.

The old marriage status lets anyone under the age of 15 get married as long as they got permission from the court and showed good cause.

It also let people under 18 get married with the permission of a parent or guardian.

St. Louis County Recorder of Deeds Gerald Smith says he does remember anyone in the county getting a judge's permission to get married since he's been there, but he believes there have been about 85 marriages in the county that needed parental approval since 2000.

“So, while the age changes nothing else changes in terms of how a verify the ages. We will be using certified birth certificates, government-issued identification cards, passports, things of that nature,” he says.

While some lawmaker argues this is an issue of personal freedom. Others say a person this young isn't allowed to vote, drink alcohol or smoke, get a tattoo or serve in the military so they shouldn't be able to get married in a civil ceremony.

“People can still enter into a religious ceremony outside of the government eyes, but to authorize something that would normally be under the eyes of the law, statutory rape under the guise of freedom is nonsensical to me and a shield for abuse,”  Merideth.

Fox 2 reached out to all of the lawmakers who voted against the new law and hasn’t heard back yet.