The couple entered Drew Reisinger’s office in Asheville after a three-hour trip across two state lines.
He was 49, and she had just turned 17. They’d traveled to North Carolina from Kentucky for the state’s more permissible marriage laws, they said.
It was 2019, one year after the state of Kentucky had passed a law banning marriage with someone under 18 without a court order. The couple wanted Reisinger, the Buncombe County register of deeds, to issue a license for their marriage in the Tar Heel state instead.
Reisinger took the girl aside to ask her questions privately — she’d celebrated her 17th birthday less than a month before, still lived with her mother, who homeschooled her, and had no work experience. She still said she wanted to marry this man, who was her boyfriend. Reisinger quickly Googled Kentucky’s laws – as of 2018, the man’s relationship with her, if at all sexual, would have been a felony offense.
“It felt too off for me to put my stamp on — I told them that they were welcome to come back once she turned 18. I denied them a marriage license, which could have legal repercussions for me,” he said. “They just went to the next county, got their marriage license, no questions asked, and a civil magistrate in that county married them that day. They went back to the state of Kentucky a married couple.”*
New bipartisan bills seek to keep Reisinger or any of his colleagues from a similar situation. House Bill 41 and a companion, Senate Bill 35 set the minimum age for marriage in North Carolina to 18 years old.
The state currently permits minors as young as 14 to marry, tying with Alaska for the lowest legal age of marriage in the United States.
Read more here.
Number of Women and Girls At Risk: 25,000
Status: Existing Legislation Needs Strengthening
Improve by adding: Prosecuting parents/guardian, felony offense