Good evening, Alaska!
In this edition: Just as things were starting to look completely torturous and pointless in the latest amendment-o-rama in the House, they go and do something decent like repealing the state’s child marriage law; The Senate joins in on Ukraine; and the reading list.
Legislative Day: 51
Bringing an end to some child marriages
The Alaska House voted to finally bring an end to the state law that permits 14- and 15-year-olds to be married with court approval, but the decision wasn’t unanimous.
The 33-3 vote took place during the amendment process on House Bill 62, legislation that would reduce the required number of witnesses to solemnize a marriage from two to one. Proponents of the change said it was outdated and that the state should no longer condone the practice.
“This is one of the most significant things we can do as a legislative body this session,” said Rep. Sara Rasmussen, who proposed the amendment with backing that spanned the political spectrum. “I think about 14-year-olds. They're freshmen in high school, they are children. … To rob them of a future is wrong.”
Current law allows 14- and 15-year-olds to be married with court approval. Minors ages 16 and up can get married with parental approval, which was not affected by the amendment.
Data on the number of such marriages in Alaska is not readily available, but it was rare the last time there was attention on the issue. When former Anchorage Sen. Berta Gardner in 2018 proposed raising the minimum age of marriage to 18, she cited state data there were four marriages involving an individual under the age of 15 between 2006 and 2015. Most were with someone in their late 20s. During the same reporting period, Gardner said that there were 12 divorces involving children, including one where the spouse was older than 55.
Her work on that legislation was cited by Rasmussen during the debate on the amendment, who added that she was concerned that such marriages would deprive children of a good education.
The fiercest support came from deeply conservative Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer. Vance, whose children were serving as guest pages for the day, said that while such marriages may have made sense and been successful in the past, they were not anymore.