Republican lawmakers in Wyoming drew both increased coverage and criticism in February 2023 for their opposition to a bill — sponsored by one of their own party members — that would set a minimum age for marriage.
The measure, House Bill 007 (HB 7), was introduced in January 2023 and sponsored by GOP Rep. Dan Zwonitzer. It would establish a minimum age of 18 for state residents looking to marry without parental consent; it contains exceptions for 16- and 17-year-old residents allowing them to marry if they receive consent from both their parents and a judge.
The bill passed in the Republican-controlled state House in a 36-25 vote; three of the chamber’s five Democrats voted for the bill, while all 25 votes against came from GOP members.
As the news site Cowboy State Daily reported, state Republicans sent an email “alert” to party members, with a link to commentary against the bill by a blog calling itself “Capitol Watch for Wyoming Families,” which read in part:
Parents, by virtue of their right to conceive children, have the pre-political (i.e. God-given) responsibility to raise their own children. This right and responsibility includes guiding their own maturing children into the estate of Holy Matrimony. HB 7 strips parents of their right to consent to properly desired and well-ordered marriages when they are below an arbitrary age (18). Moreover, this arbitrary age limit is demonstrably higher than the historical norm of millennia of human existence.
“I think it’s audacious for the Republican Party [leadership] to suggest that as soon as you can give birth to a child you should be allowed to get married,” Zwonitzer has said in response to the “alert.”
State House Minority Leader Mike Yin posted a photograph of the “alert” on Twitter saying, “HB7 prevents anyone under 16 from getting married. The Wyoming Republican Party wants children to get married. Full stop.”
A video circulating online about the measure highlights comments against the bill by Republican state Sen. Lynn Hutchings during a February 9 2023 hearing:
Hutchings said that Amish and Mennonite communities would be in violation of the bill if it passed.
“Many of them, their young women are brought up to want to be wives and mothers at a younger age,” she claimed. Hutchings also argued that the bill would infringe on parental rights.
“A lot of time young ladies, they get pregnant [at] 13, 14, 15 years old. And the mom and dad might feel they are mature enough to marry and move on,” she said.
According to the Casper Star-Tribune newspaper:
An average of 4,200 marriages were licensed in Wyoming during the last 11 years, Guy Beaudoin, deputy state registrar of vital statistics, said during the a hearing on the bill. About 20 of those marriages yearly involved a party who was 18 years old or younger.
Wyoming is one of eight states (including perennial “blue states” like Washington and California) without a law setting a minimum marriage age. According to a May 2021 study published by the advocacy group Unchained At Last, 1,239 people under the age of 18 in Wyoming were married between 2000 and 2018. The group added:
Note that Unchained counted children married, not child marriages. Thus, if a minor married another minor, Unchained counted that as two.
“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,” Zwonitzer has said in response to criticism of the bill.
The bill had previously passed in a 15-12 vote, and would require an additional vote in the state House if it is amended before it would go to GOP Gov. Mark Gordon for his signature. The party’s apparent split regarding HB 7 has been picked up by outlets ranging from Business Insider to wire copy circulated by local television stations.
The Associated Press reported on March 8 2023 that the state Senate Judiciary Committee voted 9-8 to stop a similar bill’s advance in West Virginia. The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Delegate Kayla Young, posted a photograph of the nine Republicans who voted against the measure:
A day later, however, Young announced that the full Senate voted to put the bill on the floor. It is expected to be decided in a March 10 2023 vote:
Update 3/9/2023, 8:59 p.m. PST: Updated to reflect a similar bill’s progress in the West Virginia state Senate. — ag