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Abbott signs measure that tightens state law on child brides

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill Thursday to prohibit people younger than 18 from marrying unless a judge consents. The measure also prohibits anyone under 16 from getting married.

Trevicia Williams was 14 years old when her mother forced her to marry a man 12 years her senior. 

More than 30 years ago, Trevicia Williams was married off to an ex-convict and current registered sex offender 12 years her senior. She was 14.

On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a measure changing the state law that Williams said “enabled my mom to marry me off.” It will go into effect Sept. 1.

Senate Bill 1705 by state Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, would prohibit a person younger than 18 from marrying unless a judge consents. It also would prohibit anyone under 16 from getting married. 

Under previous state law, Texas residents had to be at least 18 to independently consent to marriage. For those between the ages of 16 and 18, parental consent was required to get a marriage license. In addition, Texas had no statutory age “floor” — meaning a judge could have approved a child of any age to marry.

“Girls throughout Texas will now have protections against the exploitation of their inherent vulnerabilities, and, a fighting chance to naturally grow, go to prom, enjoy football games, have simple fun, engage in character-building experiences, mature, attend college, realize their potentials, and, when they are ready, choose and marry the man of their dreams,” Williams told The Texas Tribune on Thursday.

The House sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, previously told the Tribune she filed the legislation because she wanted to help give minors “a shot at life.” 

Williams, now 47, recalled being picked up from school by her mother one afternoon and being told she was getting married. She recalled being physically and psychologically abused throughout her marriage. 

She said the first time her husband hit her, she called her mother and asked to come home. Her mother said no. When Williams was 15, she became pregnant with her daughter. A year later, her husband was incarcerated. And a few days after she turned 17, she filed for divorce.

Concerns about the alarming number of child brides have led 12 other states to ban marriage under the age of 16. In 2016, Virginia became the first state to adopt a policy increasing the minimum age of marriage to 18.

“I am thankful that the modern realities of child marriages and overwhelming body of knowledge about the adverse consequences of them have been reasoned with. SB 1705 lessens the likelihood of future stolen childhoods,” Williams said.  

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State government 85th Legislative Session Greg Abbott Senfronia Thompson Texas Legislature Van Taylor