CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Laramie County Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, and a local women’s rights organization are supporting a bill that would raise the state minimum marriage age to 16.
In Wyoming, marriage can involve someone under the age of 16 if their parents or guardians consent and a judge authorizes the issuance of a license.
If House Bill 07 passes during the Wyoming Legislature’s 2023 General Session, which begins on Jan. 10, couples would have to be at least 18 in order to tie the knot. 16- or 17-year-olds would only be allowed to marry if they have verbal or written consent of a parent or guardian and if a judge agrees to authorize a marriage license. Marriages after July 1, 2023, involving people under 16 would be void without a decree of divorce.
Zwonitzer is the bill’s primary sponsor, and co-sponsors include Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander and Sen. Dan Furphy, R-Laramie.
“More and more states are starting to set minimum ages for marriage, and that’s something Wyoming needs to do,” Zwonitzer said. “We don’t want to be the last state where [young] people can run to to get married.”
Wyoming is one of eight states — alongside California, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Washington — that have no official minimum marriage age but require minors to have parental consent, court approval, or both.
The Zonta Club of Cheyenne, a program which advocates on behalf of Zonta International for women’s rights and an end to child marriages, is a local supporter of the bill.
Club President and Ward III Councilmember Michelle Aldrich said raising the minimum marrying age to 18 can help prevent potential unwanted child marriages in the state.
Between 2000 and 2018, roughly 1,239 minors were married in Wyoming — the sixth highest amount in the nation during that time frame.
“I think that this bill just adds that layer of formality so that we don’t have young people who are put in a situation where they are forced to be married when they may not be ready for that,” Aldrich said.
Aldrich also called the bill a “good compromise” as it still allows 16- and 17-year-olds to marry with consent.
This is not the first time a Laramie County representative has tried to establish a legal marriage age. Former Albany County representative Charles Pelky pushed similar bills in 2019 and 2020 that both failed to pass during the sessions.
In the past, Zwonitzer said establishing a legal marriage age has been among the last bills debated and examined during the six-week general session. With House Bill 07 being among the first 10 to be addressed, he hopes representatives will have plenty of time to discuss its importance and vote for it to pass.
“We have a lot of issues to discuss [in the session],” Zwonitzer said, “but this bill has a really early number, so hopefully we can get it towards the process of being a law.”