RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Lawmakers in the North Carolina General Assembly have drawn up legislation that would amend the legal marriage age in the state from 14 to 18 if passed.

According to chapter 51-2 of the North Carolina General Statutes, those over 16 and under 18 may marry with parental consent, and under 51-2.1, those over 14 and under 16 who are either pregnant or already parents themselves can marry if they receive a court order.

House Bill 41 and Senate Bill 35 would allow all unmarried persons 18 years or older to get married.

Back in September 2020, advocacy groups were calling on legislators to change state laws that allow children as young as 14 years old to get married.

In 2020, the International Center for Research on Women released a study of marriage license applications for the 50 counties in North Carolina that had available data from 2000 to 2019.

During that span, researchers said they found 3,949 applications involving 4,218 minors submitted in those counties, with roughly 93 percent of those applications for marriage between a minor and an adult.

The group found that the vast majority — nearly 99 percent — of the minors applying for marriage licenses were either 16 or 17.

But of the 70 marriages in which one of the parties was 15 or younger, had sex occurred outside of marriage, 40 would have been classified as felony violations of the state’s statutory rape laws — either Class B1, which is more serious, or Class C — due to the age differences between them.

“This happens so much more often than we thought it did,” said Lyric Thompson back in September, one of the authors of the ICRW’ report titled “Child Marriage in North Carolina: New Evidence and Policy Recommendations.”

Drew Reisinger, the register of deeds for Buncombe County, said those state laws mean “we’ve essentially become a sanctuary state for statutory rape.”

“If we can’t prove something is happening,” he said, “we can’t get legislators to change it.”

Jeanne Smoot of the Tahirih Justice Center, a Virginia-based nonprofit that advocates for immigrant women and girls who face violence and persecution, said only five states have low age floors for marriage, and of those North Carolina and Alaska have the lowest at 14.