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Bill to ban child marriage in Washington stalls again in the Senate

House Bill 1455 would have made it so that every legal marriage in Washington is between people who are at least 18 years old.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington’s legislative session ends in a handful of days, but even bills with strong, unanimous support are failing to pass out of committee. 

House Bill 1455 to ban child marriage in Washington is one of them; and according to advocates, the legislation is not being given the priority it deserves.

"I'm just one of hundreds of thousands of survivors across the United States," said Sara Tasneem, who publicly testified this session in favor of House Bill 1455. "My story, unfortunately, is not unique. And sadly, we all face the same types of abuse, and it just has to change.

Tasneem was a joyful 15-year-old girl before she said her father forced her into a marriage with a man who was 13 years older than her. He was 28 and she was 15.

"I met him that morning and I was forced to marry him that night," Tasneem said. "And so I was spiritually married to him. He was able to leave the country with me later that week." 

Her new husband did not want to wait long to consummate the marriage.

"And then six months later, we returned to the United States where, after... you know what happens on a wedding night, basically?" Tasneem said. "Yeah, I was, you know, raped and impregnated and came back to the United States six months later, and I was legally married with basically just a permission slip from my father."

Child marriage is legal in 43 states, including Washington.

"It allowed my abusers to get away with multiple crimes against me including trafficking, kidnapping, sexual assault, assault of a minor, multiple cases of abuse," Tasneem said. "And it basically was a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card for them."

Tasneem is not alone. Between 2000 and 2018, a study by Unchained At Last shows 4,831 minors were married in Washington and 86% of them were girls.

Attempts at passing legislation in Olympia were unsuccessful the past several years, as the legislation never advanced. 

Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Clark County and House Majority Floor Leader brought forward House Bill 1455 for this year's session, in hopes of "eliminating child marriage."

The bill received unanimous support. There were 95 yeas and 0 nays in the House but it stalled in the Senate and failed to meet a deadline to get voted out.

"How is it that a bill that got so much unanimous support on both sides of the aisle, still isn’t making it out of committee?" we asked.

"That’s an answer I don’t have," said Stonier, the bill's sponsor.

Stonier said, as she understands it, there were just too many bills and too little time.

"I did talk to Senator Manka Dhingra, who chairs the committee over in the Senate, who's supportive of the bill and wants to give it a hearing, but just from a capacity perspective, is interested in doing it at the start of next session," Stonier said.

The next session is not soon enough, according to Tasneem.

"It needs to change, like, yesterday," Tasneem said.

The Senate’s Deputy Majority Leader Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, was unable to be reached by phone for comment.

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