COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio's marriage laws allowing underage teens to marry are too liberal and create potential for exploiting young girls, said an advocate for organization that's called for ending child marriage.
Ohio requires teen girls to be at least 16 and males to be at least 18 before they can legally marry but allows for younger pregnant girls to wed with the permission of parents and juvenile courts, the Dayton Daily News has reported .
The newspaper found that more than 4,400 girls age 17 or younger were married in Ohio between 2000 and 2015, including 59 who were 15 or younger. Three were just 14.
The executive director of a national nonprofit advocating for ending child marriage says Ohio's law creates situations comparable to Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
"Shame on Ohio for having 16th Century laws still on the book," said Fraidy Reiss of Unchained At Last.
People younger than 18 are allowed to marry in all 50 states, though some states, including Connecticut, New York and Texas, have recently adopted laws increasing the minimum age for marriage.
Ohio State Rep. Jeff Rezabek, a Republican from Clayton who practices family and juvenile law, said underage girls marrying much older men raises questions about why judges and parents weren't pursuing other remedies in court. While the age of consent in Ohio is 16, an adult could be charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor for having sex with someone between the ages of 13 and 15. They would face rape charges for sex with anyone younger.
The newspaper cited a 2012 study conducted by William & Mary law professor Vivian Hamilton that said teens lack maturity and skills to sustain a marriage. The study said marriages involving younger teens fail at a rate of 80 percent compared with 30 percent for those who marry after age 24.
The newspaper's story highlighted a case of a pregnant Ohio 14-year-old who married a 48-year-old man in 2002. They remain married 15 years later and have three children.
The now retired judge who permitted the marriage between Tessi and Richard Siders in southern Ohio's Gallia County said he "vaguely" recalls the case and acknowledged that prosecutors and children's protective services weren't involved.
Montgomery County Juvenile Judge Anthony Capizzi said law enforcement should have been alerted when that case came before the court.
Tessi Siders, now 29, said in an interview conducted by text that she doesn't regret having married at such a young age but probably wouldn't allow her children to do so. And she said Ohio should change its law to mandate that everyone be 18 before they can marry.
"Yes, some get pregnant before 18 but if the father truly loves her, he wait the years to marry her," she wrote.
Information from: Dayton Daily News, http://www.daytondailynews.com