The Republican-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee rejected the bill on a 9-8 vote, a week after it passed the House of Delegates.
The vote came shortly after the bill's main sponsor, Democratic Del. Kayla Young of Kanawha County, testified briefly before the committee. She said that since 2000 there have been more than 3,600 marriages in the state involving one or more children.
Currently, children can marry as young as 16 in West Virginia with parental consent. Anyone younger than that also must get a judge’s waiver.
“For now, there will be no floor for the age of marriage in WV, endangering our kids,” Young wrote on Twitter after the vote.
In a rebuke, Cabell County Democratic Sen. Mike Woelfel reminded the committee after the vote that Wednesday was International Women’s Day.
Some of the bill's opponents have argued that teenage marriages are a part of life in West Virginia.
Kanawha County Republican Sen. Mike Stuart, a former federal prosecutor who sided with the majority, said his vote “wasn’t a vote against women.” He said his mother was married when she was 16, and “six months later, I came along. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”
The bill would have established that 18 is the age of consent and removed the ability of a minor to obtain consent through their parents, legal guardians, or by court petition. Existing legal marriages, including those done in other states, would have been unaffected.
According to the nonprofit group Unchained At Last, which seeks to end forced and child marriage, seven states have set the minimum age for marriage at 18, all since 2018. Supporters of such legislation say it reduces domestic violence, unwanted pregnancies and improves the lives of teens.
Although recent figures are unavailable, according to the Pew Research Center, West Virginia had the highest rate of child marriages among the states in 2014, when the state's five-year average was 7.1 marriages for every 1,000 children ages 15 to 17.
Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.