Bill raising S.C. marriage age to 18 takes 1st step in Senate

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COLUMBIA (AP) — A bill that would end marriages for anyone under the age of 18 has taken its first step in the South Carolina Senate.

The state set the minimum age to marry at 16 two years ago, but Sen. Brad Hutto said its time to take the next step and move the age to 18.

A Senate subcommittee agreed, sending the bill to the full Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, The Post and Courier of Charleston reported.

"They're not adults," said Hutto, a Democrat from Orangeburg. "We don't let them drink until they're 21 and we're going to suggest they get married at 16? It just doesn't make sense."

Hutto said many teens who get married choose a wedding after they get pregnant, an antiquated idea that data shows can limit their future because those women are less likely to return to school and more likely to live in poverty.

Of the 5,400 children who got married in South Carolina between 2000 and 2018, 79 percent were girls marrying adult men, and the vast majority of those girls were 16 and 17, Hutto said.

With just six days left in the session, the bill is unlikely to get through the Senate. But it will remain in place when the 2022 session starts.

The 2019 law raising the marriage age to 16 came after The Post and Courier reported that thousands of girls, some as young as 12 or 13, married older men in the state over the past two decades.