After a day of hard negotiating, the Louisiana Legislature agreed Thursday to ban marriage for teens under the age 16.
Louisiana’s child marriage bill attracted considerable national and international attention on Sunday when the House stripped out the minimum marriage age, which pretty much kept the existing law that allows children of all ages to marry with the consent of parents and the courts. Louisiana is one of the few states that has no minimum age for marriage.
A conference committee of House and Senate members removed those amendments, set a floor at age 16 years, allowed 16- and 17-year-old teens to marry with the consent of parents and a judge who followed a detailed list of criteria, such as age, maturity and other circumstances. Also, teens could be no more than three years apart in age to get married under Senate Bill 172 by Baton Rouge Democratic Sen. Yvonne Colomb.
All six members of the conference committee, including two who had supported Sunday night’s amendments removing the minimum age, signed the agreement.
With about 15 minutes left in the 2019 Legislative session, the House adopted the report on a 61-36 vote as did the Senate on a 35-2 vote. The measure now goes to the governor’s desk.
At the start of the day House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, had not named the House’s representatives to negotiate the differences between the Senate-passed bill, which set the minimum age at 16, and the House-passed version, which had removed the minimum age.
Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-New Orleans, who had wanted the legislation to reflect a 17-year-old minimum, was telling supporters Thursday morning that the bill would probably die when the Legislature adjourned the session at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Colomb’s home got about five inches of water early Thursday morning when heavy rains deluged Baton Rouge. While her husband was ripping out baseboards, Colomb drove the couple miles to the State Capitol.
She was on the conference committee along with Sens. Rick Ward III, R-Port Allen, and Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria.
The key moment was when Republican Rep. Nancy Landry agreed to a minimum age, but she also wanted a judge to interview 16- and 17-year-old brides and grooms separately and to undergo eight hours of counseling when they applied to get married, Colomb said.
A Lafayette family lawyer, Landry’s impassioned speech Sunday night helped sway her colleagues to vote for a bill without a minimum age. Her statement — “If they’re both 16 years old, and they both consent to sexual relations, and they’re about to have a baby, why wouldn’t we want them to be married?" — was published in British newspapers and all over America.
At lunch, Barras named Landry and Reps. Patricia Smith, the Baton Rouge Democrat who handled the bill in the House, and Chalmette Republican Raymond Garofalo, who chaired the House Civil Law committee, to represent the House in negotiations.
Landry said after the deal had been cut but before the vote, that she didn’t really support the legislation but had no problems with it after Colomb agreed to allow the detailed vetting by judges and parents.
As the legal language was being hammered out, Colomb spoke with the Rev. Gene Mills, who as director of Louisiana Family Forum had opposed the measure and helped House members strip the minimum age requirement on Sunday. The conservative Christian group carries considerable weight among a number of Republicans and some Democrats in the Legislature.
Once Mills looked at the edited version of the bill, he commented that he didn’t want a floor on the marriage age but he could live with how the final version came out, Colomb said.
“This is about 85% of what LFF thought the bill should look like but we are satisfied that Sen. Colomb has worked in good faith with all parties involved,” Mills said in a text. “We will monitor implementation and concerns going forward.”
Colomb said fellow senators had told her their offices were receiving hundreds of calls — mostly wanting the state to establish a minimum age for marriage. “I think public pressure really did make a difference,” she said.
House and Senate conferees agreed to a minimum age for a boy or girl to get married in Louisiana.
House vote on the conference committee report
Voting for banning marriage for children under the age of 16 (61): Speaker Barras and Reps. Abramson, Adams, Armes, Bagneris, Bouie, Bourriaque, Brass, C. Brown, T. Brown, Carpenter, G. Carter, Chaney, Coussan, Cox, Davis, DeVillier, Duplessis, Dwight, Emerson, Falconer, Foil, Gaines, Glover, J. Harris, Henry, Hilferty, Hill, Hollis, Ivey, Jackson, James, Jefferson, Jenkins, M. Johnson, R. Johnson, Jordan, LaCombe, N. Landry, T. Landry, Larvadain, LeBas, Leger, Lyons, Magee, Marcelle, Marino, D. Miller, G. Miller, Moore, Morris, Jim, Moss, Muscarello, Norton, Pierre, Smith, Stagni, Stefanski, White, Wright and Zeringue.
Voting against SB172 (36): Reps Abraham, Amedée, Anders, Bacala, Bagley, Berthelot, Billiot, Bishop, Carmody, Carter, R., Carter, S., Connick, Crews, DuBuisson, Edmonds, Garofalo, Guinn, Harris, L., Hodges, Hoffmann, Horton, Howard, Huval, Leopold, Mack, McFarland, McMahen, Miguez, Pearson, Pope, Pugh, Schexnayder, Seabaugh, Simon, Thomas and Turner.
Not Voting (8): Reps. Franklin, Gisclair, Jones, Jay Morris, Pylant, Richard, Stokes and Talbot.
Senate vote on the conference committee report
Voting for a 16-year-old minimum age for marriage (35): President Alario and Sens. Allain, Appel, Barrow, Bishop, Boudreaux, Carter, Chabert, Claitor, Colomb, Cortez, Donahue, Erdey, Fannin, Gatti, Hensgens, Hewitt, Johns, Luneau, Martiny, Mills, Mizell, Morrell, Morrish, Peacock, Peterson, Price, Riser, G. Smith, J. Smith, Tarver, Thompson, Walsworth, Ward and , White.
Voting against SB172 (2): Sens Long and Milkovich.
Not Voting (2): Sens LaFleur and Lambert.