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    How old do you have to be to get married?

    Date: 09.05.07 | by Judge Tom.

    If you′re eighteen, you may marry without anyone′s permission. If you′re not eighteen, you′ll need permission from your parents or guardians and/or the court. States have different requirements about underage persons obtaining a marriage license. Some states also require a blood test* and counseling before issuing a license.


    Photo by Bui Linh Ngan

    There may also be restrictions on who you can marry. Marrying certain relatives (siblings or first or second cousins, for example) is against the law, but exactly which other relatives varies among the states.

    Under current law, gay and lesbian couples may legally marry in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts,  Minnesota, Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont,  New Hampshire,  New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington** and in the District of Columbia.  Additional states are considering their own gay marriage laws. A few states permit civil unions or domestic partnerships among gay couples. In California, voters overruled a legislative act allowing gay marriage (referred to as Proposition 8). Then in February, 2012, a federal appellate court reinstated the law stating that the passage of Proposition 8 violated the Equal Protection guaranty of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In June, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case on a technicality which, in effect, reinstates the validity of gay marriages in California.

    Photo by Diogioscuro (Flickr)

    If you get married as a teenager, you may be emancipated under the laws of your state. If that’s the case, you’re considered legally free from your parents, and they are no longer responsible for you.  Some states, noting the high incidence of divorce, reinstate the parent-child relationship if a married teenager gets divorced and returns home.

    As an emancipated, married teen, you should be able to obtain medical care on your own. And you may find it easier to enter into certain contracts and business relationships. Renting an apartment and obtaining credit may be easier, but the purchase and consumption of alcohol remains off-limits until you turn twenty-one.

    In July, 2010 a federal court in Massachusetts ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (DOMA), a federal law, is unconstitutional.  The judge wrote that the law interferes with the right of states to define the institution of marriage.  He also found that the DOMA violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution by discriminating against gay couples regarding federal benefits.  The court found that gay couples deserve the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.  The decision is limited to Massachusetts where the federal district court has jurisdiction.  However, there may be broader application as a result of expected appeals. In May, 2012, the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston upheld the lower court ruling stating that the Act discriminates against gay couples and is unconstitutional. On February 23, 2011, the Obama Administration instructed the Justice Department to no longer defend DOMA. The President took the position that key parts of the law are unconstitutional. You can read more about this announcement here.

    On December 7, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging the legality of same-sex marriages. This is the first time they’ve considered the issue and a decision is expected in the summer of 2013. Update: On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that DOMA violated the Fifth Amendment and was therefore unconstitutional.**

    The DOMA was signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. In March, 2013, he wrote in The Washington Post the following: “As the president who signed the act into law, I have come to believe that DOMA is contrary to those principles and, in fact, incompatible with our Constitution.” He was referring to “the principles of a nation that honors freedom, equality and justice above all . . .”

    On July 24, 2011, the first day same-sex couples could legally wed in the state of New York, hundreds tied the knot including 18-year-old Da’onna Johnson and 20-year-old Amanda Johnson. Da’onna was quoted saying they’re ready to “start living.”

    On the lighter side: Pay attention to the marriage laws of your state. There are some unusual laws on the books as you’ll see in the following article, “Top 5 Dumb Marriage Laws.”

    *As of October, 2010 only three states and the District of Columbia require blood tests: Mississippi, Montana and New York.

    **United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. ___(2013).


    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    4 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • Jade Tedder
      Thu, 04 Jun 2009 at 02:22

      Ok My parents share legal joint custody of me…
      I live in bristol Virginia and I was needing to know if both of my parents have to be present when signing for me to get married?

      Judge Tom’s Response:
      Jade, it depends on the current Virginia laws regarding marriage. Some states require both parents’ consent, others call for one parent or a guardian. You can find the laws by googling ‘Virginia marriage laws’ but you need to check with the clerk of court or a librarian to make sure you have the latest laws. Good luck and congratulations on the big event.

    • Jenna Smith
      Sat, 07 May 2011 at 10:46

      I want to get married to an 18 year old but im only 17. My parents are completely okay with signing the papers. Will they let me do this?
      Dear Jenna: First, congratulations on your engagement. We hope you have a wonderful life. Every state has its own laws about the age to marry. So, Google the name of your state and “age to marry” for the details. Most likely, at age 17 and with your parent’s consent, you’re free to get a license and get married. All the best.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Mariana De La Vara
      Sat, 18 Feb 2012 at 10:59

      I’m about to turn 17 years old, and I want to get married but my parents are not okay with it. What can I do in order to be able to. I live in NC.
      Dear Mariana: Under the laws of North Carolina, you cannot marry at age 16 or 17 unless you have the consent of one of your parents. There is a good reason for this law and North Carolina is not alone in this regard. Even when you turn 18, think long and hard about this life-changing decision. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Georgia Jeffurs
      Wed, 07 Aug 2013 at 01:26

      Is it true that the state of Mo passed a law allowing same-sex marriages?
      Dear Georgia: As of right now, same-sex marriage is not legal in Missouri. You can check out our article about gay marriage laws to find out which states have legalized gay marriage. Thanks for asking.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)

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