Gov. Phil Scott delivers his inaugural address after being sworn in at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Thursday, January 5, 2023. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill into law on Thursday, raising the legal age for marriage in Vermont from 16 to 18 years old, making Vermont the eighth state in the United States to ban child marriage. 

“The governor believes that it’s more appropriate for such an important life decision to happen when someone achieves the age of majority,” said Jason Maulucci, the governor’s press secretary.

Before the law was enacted, minors who were 16 years or older could legally get married in Vermont with the written consent of at least one parent. 

According to data from the Vermont Commission on Women, nearly 300 children were married in Vermont between 2000 and 2021. Of those, 80% were girls, nearly half of whom were married to individuals more than four years their senior, most often grown men, according to the commission. 

At a Feb. 16 hearing, Rep. Carol Ode, D-Burlington, the bill’s sponsor, and Fraidy Reiss, a child marriage survivor and founder of the Unchained at Last nonprofit, said that even with required parental consent, child marriage often involves coercion and harm.

Youth “deserve to be free from marriage before they grow up,” Ode told the House Judiciary Committee. 

Proponents of the new law say that raising the age of marriage to match the age of consent for sexual activity is a necessary step in supporting youths’ well-being and ability to exercise agency over their lives and relationships. 

“The governor has always felt that consistency is important. So consistency in (regard to the legal age of consent) makes sense, as well,” Maulucci said.