Wyoming Republicans Criticize Bill Raising Legal Marriage Age to 18

  • Wyoming is one of 8 states that does not have a minimum age requirement for marriage.
  • A new bill seeks to set a minimum age of 18 with an exception for 16 and 17-year-olds.
  • The Wyoming Republican Party sent an email Thursday raising “concerns about constitutional rights.”

The Wyoming Republican Party criticized a bill on Thursday that seeks to implement a minimum age requirement for marriage as the new law makes its way through the state legislature. 

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, a Republican, and would raise the state’s legal marriage age to 18 years old. There is an exception carved for 16 and 17-year-olds provided they receive consent from a parent or guardian.

In a mass email sent Thursday, the Wyoming Republican Party argued the law raises “concerns about constitutional rights” and denies “the fundamental purpose of marriage” as well as “parental rights.”

“Marriage is the only institution in Wyoming Statute designed to keep a child’s father and mother living under the same roof and cooperating in the raising of any children that they, together, conceive. That is the NATURAL RIGHT of every child” the group wrote.

The email continues that since minors are capable of bearing children before they are 16, marriage should be an open option “for the sake of those children.”

The Wyoming Republican Party did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In an email to Insider, Zwonitzer said “last year there was some rumbling against the bill, but no outright hostility, especially from the Party.”

Wyoming is one of eight US states that does not have a hard-line minimum age requirement. Other states include California, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Washington.

Current Wyoming law states that marriages involving minors under 16 must receive court approval and parental or guardian consent.

According to deputy state registrar Guy Beaudoin, the state of Wyoming licensed an average of 4,200 marriages per year in the last 11 years. An average of about 20 marriages per year involved someone who was 18 years or younger. Beaudoin did not specify how many of those marriages involved someone under 18.

The email from the Wyoming Republican Party also linked to a blog, Capitol Watch for Wyoming Families, that encourages constituents to email their state representatives and ask them to vote “NO” on the bill. The website is run by a pastor.

The blog post argues that the state should have legal protections for minors who wish to marry and that parents should be the “first line of defense for minors who may or may not be mature enough to give consent to marriage.”

“For minors to whom God has given a child, states should allow for the best interest of that child,” another argument read.

The bill passed a third reading in the House on January 20, 36-25, with 25 Republicans voting no. There are currently three Democrats in the House who voted yes for the bill.

Rep. Mike Yin, a Democrat, tweeted a copy of the Wyoming Republican Party email on Thursday and accused the group of wanting children to get married “full stop.”

“Just to be clear, they are attacking a bill sponsored by a member of their own party,” Yin wrote.

Zwonitzer previously co-sponsored a similar bill in 2018 that would have set the minimum age at 18 with no exceptions, according to The Casper Star-Tribune. The new bill adds language around exceptions for 16 and 17-year-olds.

“The previous sponsor [former Democrat congressman Charles Pelkey] has had a lot of health issues and I was hoping to do something good for him by bringing it back again,” Zwonitzer told Insider. “He was very invested, and it never made sense to me why the bill didn’t go all the way through the legislature, so I keep bringing it back.”

The congressman told Cowboy State Daily that it is “audacious for the Republican Pary to suggest that as soon as you can give birth to a child you should be allowed to get married.”

“There are 12- and 13-year-olds in the country who wind up with pregnancies, and we certainly don’t want them to be able to get married, in my opinion,” he told the local news outlet.

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