The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday March 28th

Changes Proposed for N.C. Marriage Laws

Several N.C. marriage laws, which have not been reformed since 1903, could soon become part of history.\

The proposed changes would recognize marriages of different races and also close a legal loophole sometimes used to defend statutory rape.

According to current statutes, neither Muslim nor American Indian marriages performed in their faith are legally recognized by the state. The proposals would sanction all marriages performed in accordance with any religion or American Indian tribe.

And while the current statute only recognizes "white, Indian or colored" races, the proposals plan to expand racial categories to 24, like the U.S. Census.

But the majority of the disagreement about marriage laws lies in the status of underage marriages.

According to current laws, children under 16 can marry only if the bride is pregnant or has a child and the groom is the father of the child.

Children also can emancipate themselves from their parents and marry if they gain judicial approval.

"Any girl age 14 or below that was pregnant or wanted to get married must get approval of a guardian or the court, and the law was widely used to avoid charges of statutory rape," Sen. Jeanne Lucas, D-Durham, said.

Lucas and Rep. Ron Sutton, D-Robeson, proposed the changes.

Lucas said the changes will close the loophole and allow for prosecution of charges regarding sex with minors.

Under the new proposal, children between 12 and 15 years old can marry if one of the partners is pregnant or has a child. Only those marriages in which one partner is 13 years of age or younger would require judicial review.

N.C. National Organization for Women lobbyist Anne Winner said she believes the best proposal would require judicial review for marriages in which a partner is between 12 and 14 and parental consent when a teen is between 14 and 16.

Joyce Harshaw, deputy in the Register of Deeds Office for Orange County, said the laws have never been challenged in the county office.

"The only problem that people have is that they don't like to specify their race."

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