Louisiana lawmakers rejected a bill on Sunday that would have set a minimum age to marry and instead rewrote the measure to allow those under age 18 to wed with a parent's blessing.
The bill, introduced in March by Democratic state Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, would bar anyone under age 16 from marrying in the state and block 16- and 17-year-olds from marrying anyone more than four years older.
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When the House took up the bill, several conservative Republicans, whose party controls the chamber, balked at the idea, heavily rewriting the bill to allow those under 18 to marry with parental consent and requiring those under 16 to get judicial consent.
The rewritten version passed the House 66-28 on Sunday and now goes back to the Senate. The state's legislative session ends Thursday.
Some Republican lawmakers argued that allowing those under 18 to marry would be beneficial in cases of pregnancy and also touted the benefits of marriage.
“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?” state Rep. Nancy Landry, a Republican, said Sunday. “Just as a public policy of the state we want children born into wedlock, if possible.”
Supporters of a strict minimum age to marry called the bill a child protection measure, saying it would keep teenagers from marrying sexual predators and citing marriages of teenagers to people decades older.
Across the country, laws allowing minors to wed are common, NBC News previously reported. Louisiana is one of 15 states with no minimum marriage age, according to the Tahirih Justice Center, a nonprofit that seeks to protect women and girls from violence. And a majority of states allow 16- and 17-year-olds to marry, often with the consent of a parent or judge.
Nearly a quarter of a million children were married in the U.S. from 2000 to 2010, most of them girls marrying older men, according to the advocacy group Unchained at Last. Experts note that child marriage can have negative effects on young women, causing social, educational and economic strains over the course of their lives.