Column: Missouri’s minimum age to get married is 16 — here’s why it needs to be higher

Senate Bill 655 just raised Missouri’s minimum age to be married from 15 to 16, but this age raise still isn’t high enough.

Madi Baughman is a sophomore journalism and political science major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about political and civil rights issues for The Maneater.

On Aug. 28, Senate Bill 655 went into effect, which raised the minimum marriage age in Missouri. The current minimum age to be married in Missouri is 16, which was just raised from 15. You must have a parent’s permission, but it is still legal to be married then. The standard age to get married without needing permission is 18, which should be the hard line for getting married, with or without parental guidance.

While raising the age to 16 is a good start, it’s still definitely not enough. At 16, someone is at the midpoint of being a teenager — a sophomore or junior in high school, usually. These teenagers are not even legal adults, unable to do basic things like vote, rent or buy a place to live, or open a bank account in their own name; many of them have barely started driving. At 16, you’re not even the legal age of consent in Missouri. Maybe this is just me, but at 16, I was definitely not emotionally mature enough to commit to a lifelong agreement with someone else.

And while Bill 655 also made it so that nobody over the age of 21 could marry someone under the age of 18, there is still a huge developmental and emotional difference between someone who is 16 and someone who is 20. There is a huge power dynamic between a couple with an age gap like that, and the younger person is a lot more likely to be taken advantage of.

The brain isn’t even fully developed until age 25, which is when the prefrontal cortex starts to process information to start basing decisions off of rational thinking. The teenage brain processes information with the amygdala, making decisions based on emotion rather than logic. What makes a young teenager mentally and/or emotionally mature enough to be able to get married? Teen marriage has also been linked to higher divorce rates and poverty later in life, which could affect them for the rest of their life.

The minimum marriage age in Missouri should be 18, no exceptions — at least at 18, one is a legal adult. And even with a parent’s permission to get married, marrying so young in life could have consequences, both in the present and in the future.

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