A new state law raising the minimum age for marriage in Connecticut took effect on Sunday. The law establishes 16 as the minimum age for marriage in Connecticut, which previously had no legal minimum marriage age.

In the past, 16 and 17-year-olds could marry with parental permission, but under the new law, they will need both parental permission and approval from a probate court. And minors under 16, who previously could marry with the approval of a probate judge, will not be issued marriage licenses under any circumstances. Connecticut’s law is part of a nationwide push to curb child marriage: New York, Virginia and Texas have passed minimum-age laws, and other states, like Ohio, are considering similar legislation.

The law passed unanimously in both chambers of the state legislature in the spring.

More than 900 minors were married in Connecticut between 2000 and 2010, said State Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, who co-sponsored the bill in the Connecticut House of Representatives.

“Child marriage is horrific,” she said. “A lot of times people think that it happens in different countries and different states, and it happened right here in Connecticut until this bill got passed.”

Conley noted that advocates originally wanted to prohibit all people under 18 from marrying but compromised by allowing exemptions for 16 and 17-year-olds to marry in order to ensure the passage of the law.

She added that although in the past many Connecticut marriages involving minors were between two minors, others were between a young girl and a “much older man.” Typically, Conley said, these were forced marriages within families, often with a service that took place in Connecticut followed by a ceremony in another country.

During hearings related to the bill, one woman “testified that she was engaged at eight and then she was married at age 15,” Conley said.

Adrianne Owings ’20 — president of the Yale chapter of Girl Up, a United Nations Foundation organization that focuses on girls’ rights in the developing world — said that in her advocacy work she has seen how marriage can force girls out of school and out of the workforce.

“[Marriage] changes your life in a way that you can’t foresee when you’re 16,” Owings said. “I’m amazed that a state that has an actually very significant sex trafficking problem has not taken more action on child marriage because those two issues are very much intertwined.”

Joe Fischel, associate professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Yale, wrote in an email that he supports the “symbolic messages” of the new law, as romantic relationships should not be dictated by external pressure from families, religion or other sources. Still, he said he doubts that a law alone will transform “sexist cultural norms that undervalue girls’ lives and choices.”

But he also suggested that advocates should tread carefully when limiting the right to marry. The age of consent in Connecticut is 16, he noted, and if teenagers are allowed to have sex, they should “probably” also be permitted to marry.

“I understand the appeal of age-based categorical proscriptions,” he wrote, “But as the women’s rights, civil rights and gay rights movements have taught us, we should be cautious about narrowing the right to marry.”

Under the new law, in order to grant a marriage license to a 16 or 17-year-old, the probate court must find that the minor has consented to the marriage and is fully capable of doing so; that the minor is not being coerced into marriage; that he or she has parental consent to marry and that the marriage would not be detrimental to the minor.

Twenty five states have no minimum marriage age.

Talia Soglin | talia.soglin@yale.edu