Legislative Advocacy

Bill to end child marriage moves to the floor of the Washington State Senate

One of NPI’s pri­or­i­ty bills for the 2024 leg­isla­tive ses­sion is get­ting clos­er to leav­ing the Leg­is­la­ture and head­ing to Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee’s desk for signature.

House Bill 1455, prime spon­sored by State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mon­i­ca Stonier (D‑49th Dis­trict: Clark Coun­ty) would require that both par­ties in a civ­il mar­riage must be at least eigh­teen years of age, putting an end to the abhor­rent prac­tice of child mar­riage, which the U.S. State Depart­ment calls a human rights vio­la­tion. The leg­is­la­tion would make Wash­ing­ton the eleventh state to end child marriage.

HB 1455 was pulled from Rules today and is now on sec­ond read­ing. It just needs to be select­ed for floor action and receive the affir­ma­tive votes of at least , and then its jour­ney through the leg­isla­tive process will be complete.

NPI is work­ing with Unchained At Last, Zon­ta, and the Wash­ing­ton Coali­tion to End Child Mar­riage to pass the bill. I tes­ti­fied in favor of it last month and pre­sent­ed our research show­ing that 80% of like­ly 2024 Wash­ing­ton vot­ers sup­port the bill. Sev­er­al forced mar­riage sur­vivors also spoke at the hear­ing, deliv­er­ing sober­ing and grip­ping tes­ti­mo­ny to a bipar­ti­san pan­el of legislators.

With­in forty-eight hours of when the cham­ber of ori­gin cut­off had passed, the Sen­ate Law & Jus­tice Com­mit­tee vot­ed to send HB 1455 up to the Rules Com­mit­tee. A major­i­ty offered a “do pass” rec­om­men­da­tion. Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors Mike Pad­den and Lyn­da Wil­son vot­ed to refer it with­out recommendation.

The Law & Jus­tice Com­mit­tee, chaired by North­west Pro­gres­sive Foun­da­tion board­mem­ber Man­ka Dhin­gra (D‑45th Dis­trict: Red­mond, Kirk­land, Sam­mamish, Duvall) reject­ed an amend­ment from Pad­den that would have weak­ened the bill.

Pad­den’s amend­ment would have allowed sev­en­teen year olds to mar­ry under cer­tain con­di­tions. NPI opposed this amend­ment — we believe that sev­en­teen year-olds wish­ing to mar­ry can sim­ply wait until they are eigh­teen. This bill does not pre­vent younger cou­ples from get­ting mar­ried in their faith tra­di­tion, it sim­ply estab­lish­es that both par­ties in a mar­riage must be the age of majority.

“Child mar­riage, or mar­riage before age 18, was legal in all 50 U.S. states as of 2017,” a primer from Unchained At Last explains.

“Thanks to Unchained’s relent­less advo­ca­cy, that is chang­ing. Delaware and New Jer­sey in 2018 became the first two states to end this human rights abuse, fol­lowed by Amer­i­can Samoa in 2018, the U.S. Vir­gin Islands, Penn­syl­va­nia and Min­neso­ta in 2020, Rhode Island and New York in 2021, Mass­a­chu­setts in 2022 and Ver­mont, Con­necti­cut and Michi­gan in 2023.”

“How­ev­er, child mar­riage remains legal in 40 states and is hap­pen­ing in the U.S. at an alarm­ing rate: Unchained’s ground­break­ing research revealed that near­ly 300,000 chil­dren as young as 10 were mar­ried in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018 – most­ly girls wed to adult men.”

Unchained’s founder came to Wash­ing­ton State last month for a demon­stra­tion against child mar­riage, which we cov­ered here on NPI’s Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate.

HB 1455 passed the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives unan­i­mous­ly in 2023 but did not receive even a hear­ing in the Sen­ate due to a log­jam of bills. The House passed it unan­i­mous­ly again on the first day of the cur­rent ses­sion, and it is on a glide path to pas­sage in the Sen­ate this time, with NPI’s sup­port. All the Sen­ate needs to do is pass it as-is, and it can be pre­sent­ed to Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee for signature.

Andrew Villeneuve

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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