JEFFERSON CITY • The Missouri House gave initial approval Wednesday to a measure that would raise the legal age of marriage to 17 from 15 years old.
Currently, if a 15-year-old applies for a marriage license, a county's recorder of deeds is obligated to issue one. In addition to increasing the age requirement, a judge would also have to rule that the marriage is advisable.
Rep. Jean Evans, R-Manchester, who has introduced the measure the last two years, said her bill would help protect girls from being abused. Sometimes parents force their young daughters into marriages to traffic them, she said.
"This was another piece of the puzzle" to ending human trafficking, she said, referencing other measures that have been introduced to combat the crime.
While Democrats were generally supportive of the measure, some Republicans expressed reservations about Evans' proposal.
Rep. Wanda Brown, R-Lincoln, said the legislation would circumvent the rights of parents.
"I'll never vote to take away parental rights of my parents in my district," she said, "and then tell those same parents I think a judge can make a better decision than they can."
Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said he knew people who had married young and it wasn't a "predatory" situation. He said he wanted to protect those people's rights.
"We're binding the hands of people," Brattin said on the House floor Wednesday.
"Not adults, just children," Evans responded.
Some expressed concern that it might violate religious freedoms. Evans said the bill does nothing to stop two people from having a religious marriage ceremony but does prevent those under the age of 17 from getting a marriage license from the state.
The ultimate point of the bill is to protect minors in dangerous situations, not infringe on deeply held beliefs, Evans said.
Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, and Rep. Nick Marshall, R-Parkville, said the law would send the wrong message — namely, that teenagers could engage in premarital sex.
"We send the message that 14-year-olds, 15-year-olds, 16-year-olds can engage in intercourse with impunity," Marshall said.
To get on the "right side of God," those teenagers would then have to jump through hoops to get married, he said.
Brattin agreed. Forcing teenagers to marry is "horrible," he said, but "there are also people who are trying to do it in a God-honoring way."
Brown then joined in.
"Teenage marriage is not ideal," she said, "but sometimes it's necessary."
Last year, Evans' bill passed the House with only one "no" vote, but it never made it to the Senate floor.
The legislation is House Bill 1630.
On Sunday’s episode of This Week in Missouri Politics, host Scott Faughn welcomes special guest Mary Kogut, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, to talk about the special session surrounding abortion and what her take has been on the legislation being sent back to the Senate by the Missouri House.
Faughn is joined by exciting panel full of lawmakers on the panel to talk special session and the possible U.S. Senate Republican Primary Showdown that could be brewing. M’evie Mead of Planned Parenthood and Reps. Stacey Newman, Diane Franklin, and Jean Evans participate in the panel discussion.
Rep. Holly Rehder joins host Scott Faughn on a new episode of TWMP, backed up by Rep. Jean Evans, former state representative John Mayfield, Dave Cook of UFC655, and Democratic operative Patrick Lynn.
On the latest edition of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jenny Simeone welcome state Rep. Jean Evans to the program.
The Manchester Republican is serving her first term in the Missouri House. She represents the 99th state House District, which takes in Manchester, Valley Park and Twin Oaks.
Evans won a four-way Republican primary last year, which was tantamount to victory in a district that tilts toward the GOP. Before she entered elected office, Evans worked as a realtor and a financial advisor. She also coached volleyball for Westminster Christian Academy.
Since joining the Missouri House earlier this year, Evans sponsored bills to raise the age someone can get married in the state from 15 to 17 years old. Evans is also carrying a bill aimed at expanding the use of hemp oil (known as CBD) to treat serious diseases. Currently, the substance can only be used to treat epilepsy.
A few highlights from the show:
- Evans said she comes from a Democratic leaning family. But one of the reasons she became a Republican is because “I want change and I feel like we’ve become the party of change.”
- She said she’s forged solid relationships with House members of both parties, adding that lawmakers can find ways to work together even if they disagree sharply on key issues.
- One instance of sharp divergence was on legislation that would bar cities from raising their minimum wages. Evans supports that bill, which would effectively nullify an ordinance raising St. Louis’ minimum wage to $11 an hour. “We both want to help the community, that’s why it gets personal,” she said. “Because both sides feel that the other side doesn’t get it, the other side wants to hurt … and that’s why it gets heated and emotional.”
- Evans said Missouri is gaining a reputation for being a haven for forced child marriages. She also says that there are long-term consequences for minors that marry so young. “What I learned through this process is that women who marry before the age of 18 are much more likely to end up in poverty, addicted to drugs, and in an abusive situation,” she said.
What’s the right age to get married?
While it varies for many, Missouri lawmakers are now getting into the business of marriage. This is the direct result of a News 4 investigation that revealed children ages 15, 16, and 17 are getting married in the state, and some are even being brought to Missouri specifically to get married.
Newly elected state-rep. Jean Evans had one major reaction when she viewed our News 4 investigation from July.
“Disgust,” she said.
Especially concerning are cases like this: A father who brought his 15-year-old daughter all the way from Idaho to Kansas City to marry the adult man who'd raped her all because, unlike many other states, it's legal in Missouri for children as young as 15 to wed.
“We don't want to be known for that. We want to be known for the Cardinals, the Royals, the Arch, not something like that,” said Evans.
“Unfortunately, there are parents involved with trafficking of their children. It's not something we want to think about, but it's the truth,” she said.
News 4 ran the numbers from the state. In the past four years, close to 800 16 and 17 year-olds were married in Missouri. Even 100 15-year-olds entered a marriage contract in that time frame.
Numbers that are upsetting for many reasons, Evans said, but for one, children that age can’t even legally give consent for sex.
“So why would you be allowed to marry them. We are updating our marriage law to be in line with other statutes," she said.
Evans and other advocates believe the young marriage age in Missouri may be fueling sex trafficking in the state.
“Unfortunately there are parents involved with trafficking of their children. It's not something we want to think about, but it's the truth,” said Evans.
She wants other initiatives to combat trafficking too, but as a start, Evans filed a bill at the capitol this week that would raise the minimum age for marriage to 17.
This is one thing we can do as a state to cut down on sex trafficking and protect our children.
Evans has been working with US Congresswoman Ann Wagner on the issue of sex trafficking too.
JOPLIN, Mo. - According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Missouri is the 20th highest state for human trafficking cases. And, a new Missouri state representative is setting out to change that number.
"What we hope to do is to stop the flow of traffickers coming to our state to marry off 15- and 16-year-olds to abusers," explained State Representative Jean Evans.
Evans has filed House Bill 270 which aims to change the legal consent age when it comes to marriage.