Governor Inslee signs House Bill 1455
Washington Governor Jay Inslee signs House Bill 1455, ending child marriage, in a ceremony at the Washington State Capitol on March 7th, 2024 (Photo courtesy of Washington State Legislative Support Services)

Prov­ing once again that progress is pos­si­ble even in an era of intense polar­iza­tion, Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee today signed into law a bill sup­port­ed by one hun­dred and forty-six of Wash­ing­ton’s one hun­dred and forty-sev­en state leg­is­la­tors that ends child mar­riage in the Ever­green State, abol­ish­ing a prac­tice that the U.S. Depart­ment of State has right­ful­ly called a human rights violation.

House Bill 1455, prime spon­sored by Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mon­i­ca Stonier (D‑49th Dis­trict: Clark Coun­ty) and cham­pi­oned on the oth­er side of the rotun­da by Sen­a­tor Derek Stan­ford (D‑1st Dis­trict: King and Sno­homish coun­ties) requires that both par­ties in a civ­il mar­riage be at least eigh­teen years old, the cur­rent age of major­i­ty. Under exist­ing law, there is no min­i­mum age to get mar­ried, which means it’s per­fect­ly legal for a young girl to be forced into a mar­riage to a much-old­er man by her par­ents, leav­ing her trapped in an abu­sive relationship.

But in nine­ty days, the law will change, thanks to the suc­cess of House Bill 1455.

I joined Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Stonier, Sen­a­tor Stan­ford, Sen­a­tor Yas­min Trudeau, Sen­a­tor Man­ka Dhin­gra, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Zon­ta, and sur­vivors of forced mar­riage to watch as Gov­er­nor Inslee added his sig­na­ture to HB 1455 in a brief but very mov­ing cer­e­mo­ny short­ly after 11 AM at the gov­er­nor’s office.

HB 1455 will go into effect nine­ty days from today, on June 6th, 2024.

“Child mar­riage has a long his­to­ry of abuse and coer­cion, and it con­tributes to the human traf­fick­ing chal­lenge,” House non­par­ti­san staff wrote in their 2023 report sum­ma­riz­ing the tes­ti­mo­ny sup­port­ing the bill. (No one spoke against it at its ini­tial hear­ing in the House Civ­il Rights & Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee on Jan­u­ary 31st.)

“This straight­for­ward bill pro­tects young peo­ple under the age of 18 years from poten­tial exploita­tion, traf­fick­ing, and oth­er harms fre­quent­ly per­pe­trat­ed by peo­ple much old­er than the minors. Most peo­ple can­not believe that child mar­riage is legal in Wash­ing­ton, but child mar­riages do hap­pen, and they are not rare. Between 2000 and 2018, more than 4,800 minors between the ages of 15 and 17 years were mar­ried in Wash­ing­ton. Eighty per­cent of these were girls who were mar­ried to adult men who were on aver­age four years older.”

The pas­sage of HB 1455 was one of NPI’s top leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties for 2024.

The House vot­ed on the very first day of ses­sion to unan­i­mous­ly send it back over to the Sen­ate, where it had got­ten stuck in a log­jam of bills. This time, how­ev­er, it was pri­or­i­tized for action by the Sen­ate Law & Jus­tice Com­mit­tee, chaired by Sen­a­tor Dhin­gra, a North­west Pro­gres­sive Foun­da­tion boardmember.

At the bil­l’s Sen­ate hear­ing in late Jan­u­ary, I pre­sent­ed NPI’s research find­ing that eight in ten Wash­ing­ton vot­ers sup­port end­ing child mar­riage, with over six in ten strong­ly sup­port­ive. The Sen­ate heed­ed that data and the incred­i­bly pow­er­ful sto­ries shared by sev­er­al sur­vivors of forced mar­riage, vot­ing less than a month lat­er to send the bill to Gov­er­nor Inslee, with the only dis­sent­ing vote com­ing from Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Jeff Holy (6th Dis­trict: Spokane County).

HB 1455 is the lat­est in a series of human rights advances that have been secured dur­ing Gov­er­nor Inslee’s tenure. Thanks to the lead­er­ship of Gov­er­nor Inslee and Demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­is­la­tors, Wash­ing­ton has abol­ished the death penal­ty and pro­tect­ed LGBTQ+ youth from “con­ver­sion ther­a­py.” Now we’ve end­ed child mar­riage, some­thing no oth­er state in the west­ern Unit­ed States has yet done.

Ore­gon, you’re next!

Our thanks to every­one who worked to pass House Bill 1455, espe­cial­ly our friends at Unchained At Last, the nation­al non­prof­it found­ed by a forced mar­riage sur­vivor that has been work­ing state-by-state to get child mar­riage abol­ished. Cheers also to Zon­ta, Indi­vis­i­ble, the King Coun­ty Sex­u­al Assault Resource Cen­ter, the Wash­ing­ton Chap­ter of the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Pedi­atrics, the AHA Foun­da­tion, and the Lati­no Civic Alliance, which lob­bied for the bill.

And final­ly, here’s to our sur­vivors who spoke up and brave­ly shared their sto­ries in pub­lic, par­tic­u­lar­ly Sara Tas­neem, Stephanie War­ren, and Kate Yang. Your courage and resilience are inspir­ing, and we are hon­ored to have been able to sup­port you in secur­ing this long over­due breakthrough.

About the author

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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