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SC lawmaker files bill to repeal pregnancy exception for child marriage

  • Updated

A Midlands lawmaker has filed a Statehouse bill that would strike an existing exception that allows girls of any age to get married in South Carolina if they are pregnant. 

Sen. Katrina Shealy, a Lexington Republican, told The Post and Courier earlier this year she intended to fix the law. The newspaper published an investigation in June showing nearly 7,000 underage girls — some as young as 12 and 13 — have wed older males in South Carolina over the past 20 years. 

While state law technically sets the minimum age for marriage at 18, South Carolina also allows 16- and 17-year-olds to wed with their parents’ permission, and sets no minimum age if the bride is pregnant or has given birth. 

That exception does not require the groom’s parents to consent to the marriage, but at least one of the bride’s parents must sign off.

“To me, that’s statutory rape,” Shealy said at the time. “I don’t care who signs (the marriage license).”

The bill Shealy filed in the Senate on Wednesday would repeal the section of the code "relating to the issuance of a license to an unmarried female and male under eighteen years of age when the female is pregnant or has borne a child."

Shealy said Thursday afternoon that she's asked the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman to assign the bill to a subcommittee for a hearing. She said she expects if the bill is given a chance, it will receive bipartisan support.

"Who thinks a 12-year-old ought to get married," she said. "I can't even fathom that."

If signed into law, it would become the first piece of legislation passed by the General Assembly in nearly 20 years that protects children in South Carolina from entering into underage marriages. 

Reach Lauren Sausser at 843-937-5598.