The Wyoming Republican Party is planning to stop a proposed bill that seeks to place a minimum age requirement for marriage from being passed into law, despite being sponsored by a Republican lawmaker.
The proposed bill plans to set the minimum age for marriage to 18 years old. Exceptions remain for 16 and 17-year-olds as long as they can obtain parental permission. Wyoming Republican and Representative Dan Zwonitzer proposed the measure.
Ahh yes, the party of anti-grooming voting against Child Marriage. https://t.co/4fV8iM1Vq4
— AskAubry (@ask_aubry) February 13, 2023
The bill passed the third reading in Wyoming’s House of Representatives on a 36-25 vote, with 25 Republicans voting against the proposal. Despite opposition from his party, Zwonitzer said in an email to Business Insider that "last year there was some rumbling against the bill, but no outright hostility, especially from the Party."
The Wyoming Republican Party sent a mass email on February 9th criticizing the bill, arguing against its passage based on constitutional and parental rights and further insisting that the proposal denies "the fundamental purpose of marriage.”
"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." they wrote in the email.
HB7 prevents anyone under 16 from getting married. The Wyoming Republican Party wants children to get married. Full stop. pic.twitter.com/L4LXlCjQEU
— Mike Yin (@itsmikeyin) February 9, 2023
The email also said that since minors can have children even before they are 16 years old, teen parents should be allowed to marry as an option "for the sake of those children,” even if Wyoming doesn’t have any laws prohibiting teenagers from co-parenting.
The group’s email contained a link to a blog called Capitol Watch for Wyoming Families, which a pastor runs, encouraging constituents to ask state representatives to vote against the bill.
The post also argued that Wyoming should have state protections instead for minors who want to marry and believed that parents should be the "first line of defense for minors who may or may not be mature enough to give consent to marriage."
Despite these arguments, research shows a different reality for child marriage. Anti-child marriage advocacy group Unchained At Last said that since 2000, 60,000 marriages in the United States have happened at age gaps that would have been considered a sex crime, allowing rapists and sexual offenders to use marriage as a “get out of jail free” card.
"[I]t's just really despicable that in Wyoming, this has become an argument of whether we want to continue marrying off girls to their rapists." @FraidyReiss @Newsweek #Wyoming #WY #EndChildMarriageWY #18NoExceptions
— Unchained At Last (@UnchainedAtLast) February 14, 2023
While the Wyoming Republican Party has attacked the bill for infringing on the rights of minors and parents to marriage, Unchained At Last condemned it for being too weak and impacting only a small number of victims, especially considering that 97% of child marriages in Wyoming are to girls aged 16 to 17 years old.
"It's really great the legislators want to protect 3 percent of those who are impacted by child marriage," Frady Reiss, founder of Unchained At Last and a forced marriage survivor, told Newsweek. "But to us, if you're failing to protect 97 percent of the people you're claiming to protect, you don't really have the right to get to brag about that. To me, it's just the bill is not even worth the paper that it's printed on at that point."
Shame on Wyoming legislators for condoning child marriage. All children under the age of 18 deserve protection from this abuse, and a chance to grow up before making such a serious commitment. It's time to END this harmful practice‼️https://t.co/DntQCHZnFb #18NoExceptions
— Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation (@AHAFoundation) February 14, 2023
Child marriage remains a contentious point in many US states. Wyoming is among eight states that don’t mandate a minimum age for marriage.