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Wyoming Republican Party Sparks Outrage After Opposing Bill Banning Child Marriages

A bill seeking to ban marriages for children under the age of 16 is being opposed by Wyoming Republicans for interfering with parental rights and religious liberty.

Screenshot of Wyoming legislature debating child marriage bill
Wyoming Legislature/YouTube

Wyoming Republicans are facing backlash over their opposition to a bill seeking to ban marriages for children under the age of 16.

The Wyoming GOP claimed it is a parental and religious right to marry children.

The bill in question, House Bill 7, seeks to ban marriages involving anyone under the age of 16 and would only allow 16 and 17-year-olds to marry with parental consent.

While current Wyoming law includes no minimum age requirement for marriage, parents must receive a judge’s consent for those under 16. H.B.7 would remove a judge's ability to grant consent, abolishing marriages for anyone under the age of 16.

But Wyoming's Republican leadership says there could be cases where 15-year-olds should be allowed to marry and a mass email on behalf of the Wyoming Republican Party Central Committee referencing H.B.7 warns party members while the bill "may seem harmless," there are "concerns about constitutional rights that you need to form your own opinions about."

The email includes a link to an analysis of the bill by Capitol Watch for Wyoming Families, which argued that since children under the age of 16 can get pregnant, they should be able to get married. In essence, the bill “denies the fundamental purpose of marriage” by denying “a child’s father and mother [from] living under the same roof.”

The analysis continues:

“Parents, by virtue of their right to conceive children, have the pre-political, i.e. God-given, responsibility to raise their own children. This right and responsibility includes guiding their own maturing children into the estate of Holy Matrimony.”

Elsewhere, Capitol Watch laments the "sad fact that physical maturity often does not match emotional and intellectual maturity." which it says is "an indictment of our modern educational system." While the organization acknowledges this "is a problem that should be addressed," it nonetheless recommends that the problem should not be used "as an excuse to instantiate bad law.”

H.B.7 was sponsored by state Republican Representative Dan Zwonitzer, who called Capitol Watch's argument "audacious" in an interview with Cowboy State Daily:

“The Republican Party [leadership] has gotten so ideologically away from mainstream society that even trying to comment on some of their outrageous claims is difficult. They’re trying to attack our education system while promoting 12- and 13-year-olds can be married."
"It’s not congruent and it’s not even worthy of debate in the legislative arena.”

Zwonitzer criticized Republicans who've suggested "that as soon as you can give birth to a child you should be allowed to get married," adding:

“There are 12- and 13-year-olds in the country who wind up with pregnancies, and we certainly don’t want them to be able to get married, in my opinion.”
"You don’t want a 30-year-old who impregnates a 12-year-old to be able to marry them and get around all of our other child protection laws. I find that argument disingenuous.”

Many have condemned Wyoming Republicans since the news of their oppositon to the bill went public.

Quite a few have pointed out the hypocrisy of defending child marriage while accusing LGBTQ+ people of being "groomers" who are explicitly targeting and sexualizing young children, rhetoric that has allowed a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation to sweep the country.

The Wyoming bill is the second time Republicans have made headlines in the last year for defending child marriage.

In April 2022, Tennessee Republicans faced heavy criticism for proposing House Bill 233, which partially redefined marriage, removing minimum age requirements for straight couples only.

Critics of the legislation—which would establish common law marriages in the state between “one man and one woman"—said it poses a threat to marriage equality in the state, which has been legal since the landmark 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Others contended the legislation would pave the way to child marriage and child sexual abuse.

Responding to concerns from lawmakers, Republican Tom Leatherwood—who sponsored the legislation—said the bill "would be construed that minors would not be able to enter into this," a claim that prompted onlookers to suggest the legislation would inspire a 14th Amendment court challenge.