Although laws in Virginia state the minimum age to wed is 16, the fine print reveals a more disturbing picture: Much younger kids may be able to marry with parental permission and if the girl is pregnant, leading to extreme cases in which youngsters not even in their teens have been granted marriage licenses, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Republican Sen. Jill Vogel, who says current laws "are not protecting children," hopes to put an end to that loophole with state Senate Bill 415 and companion House Bill 703, which call for raising the minimum age for all marriages to 16, WTOP reports. If approved by the governor (both bills flew through their respective chambers Monday), the new law would permit marriage for 16- and 17-year-olds only if they petition a judge, who would consider their ages, maturity, and criminal history and determine they weren't being threatened or forced to marry.
"It's rarely the case that [a pregnant] 13-year-old is marrying a 17-year-old," Vogel says. "It's more often ... that it is a child marrying somebody decades older than they are." In cases like that, Vogel says, instead of issuing a marriage license, "someone … should be asking the question, 'Well, if this 13-year-old is pregnant, isn't that evidence of statutory rape?'" Vogel also notes the gender disparity in the state's current laws, noting a pregnant 13-year-old girl could be forced to marry, but a boy that age doesn't face that dilemma. State Sen. Thomas Garrett doesn't concur with the bill, arguing that it replaces the "insight and judgment of parents with that of the court," per the Times-Dispatch, but Vogel says it's necessary. "It really shocks the conscience, some of the situations children have found themselves in." (Florida was dealing with a similar problem.)