VICTORY! Washington State Senate sends bill ending child marriage to Governor Inslee

A North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute pri­or­i­ty bill that would advance human rights in Wash­ing­ton State by end­ing the prac­tice of allow­ing child mar­riages is on its way to Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee. Forty-eight out of forty-nine sen­a­tors vot­ed yea this after­noon to pass House Bill 1455, prime spon­sored by Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mon­i­ca Stonier (D‑49th Dis­trict: Clark Coun­ty) and cham­pi­oned by Sen­a­tor Derek Stan­ford (D‑1st Dis­trict: King and Sno­homish Coun­ties) in the Senate.

The vote con­cludes the bil­l’s jour­ney through the leg­isla­tive process. Intro­duced on Jan­u­ary 19th, 2023 by Stonier, HB 1455 passed the House unan­i­mous­ly in 2023 before run­ning into a leg­isla­tive log­jam in the Sen­ate Law & Jus­tice Com­mit­tee. Thank­ful­ly, the House revived the bill and again sent it back to the Sen­ate unan­i­mous­ly on the first day of the cur­rent short ses­sion. This time, it got a speedy hear­ing from Chair Man­ka Dhin­gra (D‑45th Dis­trict: Red­mond, Kirk­land, Sam­mamish, Duvall), a North­west Pro­gres­sive Foun­da­tion boardmember.

The rank­ing Repub­li­can on the Law & Jus­tice Com­mit­tee, Sen­a­tor Mike Pad­den, attempt­ed to weak­en the bill with an amend­ment allow­ing sev­en­teen year-olds to mar­ry under lim­it­ed cir­cum­stances, but this was reject­ed by voice vote. No sen­a­tor spoke against the bill on the floor, but one Repub­li­can did vote nay — Jeff Holy. Pad­den and all oth­er Repub­li­cans joined Democ­rats in vot­ing yea.

Here’s the Sen­ate roll call on HB 1455:

Roll Call
HB 1455
Child mar­riage
3rd Read­ing & Final Passage
2/23/2024

Yeas: 48; Nays: 1

Vot­ing Yea: Sen­a­tors Bil­lig, Boehnke, Braun, Cleve­land, Con­way, Dhin­gra, Dozi­er, For­tu­na­to, Frame, Gildon, Hansen, Hasegawa, Hawkins, Hunt, Kauff­man, Keis­er, King, Kud­er­er, Liias, Lovelett, Lovick, MacEwen, McCune, Mul­let, Muz­za­ll, Nguyen, Nobles, Pad­den, Ped­er­sen, Ran­dall, Rivers, Robin­son, Sal­daña, Salomon, Schoesler, Shew­make, Short, Stan­ford, Tor­res, Trudeau, Valdez, Van De Wege, Wag­oner, War­nick, Well­man, Wil­son, C., Wil­son, J., Wil­son, L.

Vot­ing Nay: Sen­a­tor Holy

With his nay vote, Sen­a­tor Holy gained the dis­tinc­tion of becom­ing the one and only leg­is­la­tor to oppose the enact­ment of this human rights breakthrough.

Holy rep­re­sents the 6th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict, which encom­pass­es Med­ical Lake, Air­way Heights, Fairchild Air Force Base, and parts of the City of Spokane. Accord­ing to the biog­ra­phy on his cam­paign web­site, he is Catholic:

Jeff grad­u­at­ed from Catholic grade school, attend­ed Catholic Sem­i­nary as a high school fresh­man, con­tin­ued Catholic High School as a sopho­more, and grad­u­at­ed from Issaquah High School.

While in high school, Jeff start­ed his Repub­li­can involve­ment by door­belling for then first-time WA State House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives can­di­date, Kent Pullen. Once out of high school, Jeff dis­cov­ered the val­ue of man­u­al labor, while work­ing in a foundry, at a lum­ber treat­ment plant and by dri­ving a combine.

In 1975, Jeff enlist­ed in the U.S. Army where he spent three years with the 9th Infantry Divi­sion and trained as a Scout. Once his enlist­ment was over, Jeff attend­ed Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­si­ty where he grad­u­at­ed with a B.S. in Psy­chol­o­gy. While at WSU, Jeff met his wife Cindy. Plans for a future togeth­er includ­ed apply­ing to Gon­za­ga Law School. Then, as even now, the expense of Law School cre­at­ed an uneasy moment. Locat­ing a job that had shift work and paid well enough to afford Law School was a chal­lenge. Find­ing that the Spokane Police Depart­ment would allow Jeff to work grave­yard shift while com­plet­ing law school, seemed to be a per­fect fit. Jeff and Cindy cel­e­brat­ed their wed­ding on a Sat­ur­day, and the fol­low­ing Mon­day morn­ing Jeff start­ed Law School.

In Wash­ing­ton State, most Catholic church­es oper­ate under the juris­dic­tion of the Arch­dio­cese of Seat­tle, which states explic­it­ly in its poli­cies on mat­ri­mo­ny (adopt­ed in 2007) that parish priests are to dis­cour­age child marriage: 

IX. Age of Marriage

Pas­tors are to urge young cou­ples not to mar­ry before the age of 18 (see CIC, c. 1072). A priest or dea­con may have seri­ous doubts about the young couple’s readi­ness for mar­riage due to their age and matu­ri­ty. In such cas­es, the sacra­ment may be delayed (see CIC, c. 1077 §1).

The poli­cies also state that “local civ­il state stat­ues regard­ing the age of
mar­riage are to be fol­lowed.” As of this spring, that will include the statute that House Bill 1455 is amend­ing, despite Sen­a­tor Holy’s no vote.

On Catholi­cAn­swers, Fr. Hugh Bar­bour, O.Praem., writes:

The age for legit­i­mate mar­riage depends on the cul­ture. Nowa­days it is eigh­teen at the ear­li­est, but there are still states where it is pos­si­ble to mar­ry younger. Cur­rent Church law is more strict than civ­il or com­mon law, although until recent­ly it was not. The key here is pru­dence and con­cern for the suc­cess of the union in the matu­ri­ty of the cou­ple. Even today there are some cul­tures in which ear­ly mar­riage is pos­si­ble because of the rel­a­tive matu­ri­ty and expec­ta­tions of the par­ties, but sure­ly in ours that is not the case.

Empha­sis is mine. Noth­ing in the bill con­flicts with the teach­ing of Sen­a­tor Holy’s faith. To the con­trary, the bill is whol­ly con­sis­tent with the guid­ance the Church has been giv­ing to parish priests for decades.

Sen­a­tor Holy did not speak dur­ing floor debate, but he did talk to Grace Deng from The Wash­ing­ton State Stan­dard about his vote. Here’s what he said:

Holy told the Stan­dard that he had friends in high school who mar­ried at approx­i­mate­ly the same age due to preg­nan­cies and had “suc­cess­ful marriages.”

“Most of what you heard out here was hyper­bole or talk­ing points,” Holy said, refer­ring to law­mak­ers speak­ing about the sto­ries of child mar­riage survivors.

Holy also said he doesn’t want to “force” preg­nant peo­ple to either “have an ille­git­i­mate child or have an abor­tion,” and that as a for­mer law enforce­ment offi­cer who worked in the sex crimes unit, he trusts the jus­tice sys­tem to make deci­sions on whether chil­dren who mar­ry are act­ing of their own free will.

To assert that the case for the bill rests on “hyber­bole” is both false and insult­ing to forced mar­riage sur­vivors. Also, chil­dren born out of wed­lock are not “ille­git­i­mate.” Holy is fright­en­ing­ly out of touch: our polling has found that 80% of like­ly 2024 Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers sup­port this leg­is­la­tion.

Our team at the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute is grate­ful to the one hun­dred and forty-six oth­er Wash­ing­ton State leg­is­la­tors who vot­ed yea and got HB 1455 out of the Leg­is­la­ture and over to Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee’s desk.

We’re also thank­ful for the sur­vivors who came and brave­ly told their sto­ries to law­mak­ers and all of our allies that lob­bied enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly for this bill.

We have espe­cial­ly enjoyed work­ing with Unchained At Last and Zon­ta to get this done. We were hon­ored to be able to pro­vide cov­er­age of the “chain-in” that Unchained At Last orga­nized last month in Olympia. If you haven’t read the sur­vivors’ sto­ries that we fea­tured in our cov­er­age, we urge you to do so now.

Once Gov­er­nor Inslee signs HB 1455, the clock will start tick­ing on its enact­ment. It will go into effect in June, nine­ty days after ses­sion adjourn­ment, and from that day for­ward, Wash­ing­ton will require that both par­ties wish­ing to mar­ry be at least eigh­teen years of age. The days of child mar­riage in Wash­ing­ton will be over.

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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