Fifteen-year-olds can no longer get married in Missouri. The state had long been the most lenient in the US when it came to child marriage: About half the states have no minimum age requirement for marriage, but Missouri was the only state in which just one parent's signature—and no approval from a judge—was needed for a 15-year-old to wed, the Kansas City Star reported in March. Because of that, the state had become a sort of "destination wedding" venue for 15-year-old brides, the Star reported, many of whom crossed the border to marry their alleged rapists in an attempt to avoid statutory rape charges against older boyfriends. Not so anymore: The Star reports that Gov. Mike Parson on Friday signed a law making 16 the minimum legal age to marry in the state.
The law, which still requires one parent's signature in order for 16- or 17-year-olds to marry, also bars anyone age 21 or older from being given a marriage license if they are planning to marry someone younger than than 17, per the bill. "The welfare of our children must always be a top priority," Parson said in a statement. Lawmakers have been working for years to change the child marriage laws in Missouri; the bill that was ultimately signed into law passed the state Senate 32-1 and the state House 135-3. Other states are taking similar measures; Delaware was the first state to ban child marriage entirely, making 18 the minimum legal age for marriage, with no exceptions, in May. New Jersey did the same in June. Virginia and Texas also have 18 set as the minimum age, but they allow exceptions for legally emancipated minors. (Read more child marriage stories.)