End to Child Brides In Colorado, Governor Declares

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DENVER — Governor Owens signed a measure banning child brides, ending an uproar sparked by a court ruling that said 12-year-old girls could enter common-law marriages in Colorado.

The state Court of Appeals ruled on June 15 that Colorado had no stated minimum age for common-law marriage but said the state has adopted English common law, which makes girls as young as 12 and boys as young as 14 eligible for marriage.

“It was imperative that Colorado change its law concerning the minimum age for common law marriage. The age of consent for marriage should be consistent in our statutes and, most importantly, our young children must be protected,” Mr. Owens said as he signed the bill Tuesday.

The bill to close the loophole passed without major opposition during a special session on illegal immigration. Lawmakers said the issue could not wait until lawmakers return to work in January. The law raises the minimum age for common-law marriage to 18 or 16 with parental consent and a judge’s approval and goes into effect September 1.

The court ruling came in the case of Willis Rouse, 38, who was 34 years old when he applied for and received a license to marry a then-15-year-old girl with the consent of the girl’s mother.

A judge granted a motion to invalidate the marriage, saying anybody under the age of 16 had to obtain judicial approval for either common-law or ceremonial marriages. The Court of Appeals agreed Rouse could marry the girl, but left the question of whether their union was valid to a lower court.

Rouse is serving a four-year prison term after pleading guilty to stalking the girl and has asked a judge to release him in light of the appeals court ruling.

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