A new law will take effect in August establishing a minimum age for marriage in Louisiana.
In order to get married, a person must be at least 16 years old — an age limit the state previously hasn’t had. Any 16 and 17-year-olds will have to have both parental and judicial consent and can’t marry anyone more than three years older.
On this week's Capitol Access, Morgan Lamandre, legal director with Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response (STAR), discusses the new law and how it moved through the Legislature.
Q: Morgan, you and your organization supported and lobbied for this law. Why does STAR support having a minimum age for marriage?
Well, STAR supports having a minimum age for marriage because of certain dynamics at play. If you look at the statistics of marriage ages, you see when younger people are getting married, they're marrying much older people. Now, obviously those are the people we're focused on with this bill. There are going to be some people who are marrying their same age, so a 16-year-old marrying a 16-year-old. What we were concernd about was the predatory nature when there is a young individual marrying a much older individual. Under Louisiana law, if you have any sexual contact with somebody of those age differences, it would be a crime but for the marriage. So once you get married, it kind of gives you a defense, in a sense, to a crime. We were really concerned about those issues.
Q: Most lawmakers did support setting a minimum age for marriage, but they were haggling over the details until the final hours of session. What were the hang ups?
Well, from the very beginning, lawmakers expressed concern about the religious issue, if there is someone who's young and gets pregnant and they want to be able to have a child within a marriage. Their big concern was essentially a religious aspect of having children that are not born within a marriage. The compromise was a three year age difference, minimum age of 16, but to ensure some safeguards to make sure there is no coercion, there is no trafficking or abuse. Also, just to really have some considerations for how are these individuals going to manage their life affairs once they get married.
Q: The data on the number of minors getting married in Louisiana is somewhat limited. The latest information is from 2015. In that year, 63 minors got married. Had this new law applied then, only 30 of those would have been permitted. What’s the new requirement around reporting these types of marriages?
So there will be an annual report now that actually is going to lay out the parishes in which these marriages of minors are being granted. We can immediately identify which parish this is happening in and if it's because somebody is pregnant. I think this will allow us to look at some other potential solutions, because one of the things we do know is that when teenagers have children early on, they're less likely to fulfill their education, they're less likely to go to college and it's going to be much harder to get a job and stay employed. So I think that will help us with some other policy changes in the future.