DENVER — A 15-year-old girl can enter into a common-law marriage in Colorado, and younger girls and boys possibly can too, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.
While the three-judge panel stopped short of setting a specific minimum age for such marriages, it said they could be legal for girls at 12 and boys at 14 under English common law, which Colorado recognizes.
Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald said she was appalled by the ruling and said lawmakers need to look at the issue next year when the Legislature reconvenes.
"That's a child. You're taking advantage of an undeveloped person, putting them in a situation that's for life. That's something we need to take a look at," the Democrat said.
The ruling overturned a lower court judge's decision that a girl, now older than 18, was too young to marry at 15. The panel said that there was no clear legislative or statutory guidance on common-law marriages, and that Colorado courts have not determined an age of consent.
For traditional ceremonial marriage, Colorado law sets the minimum age at 18, or 16 with parental or judicial approval.
Colorado is one of 10 states, plus the District of Columbia, that recognize common-law marriage, which is based on English law dating back hundreds of years.
"It appears that Colorado has adopted the common-law age of consent for marriage as 14 for a male and 12 for a female, which existed under English common law," the ruling said. "Nevertheless, we need only hold here that a 15-year-old female may enter into a valid common-law marriage."
Thursday's ruling found that the girl was old enough to marry, but it did not conclude whether she and Willis Rouse, 38, have a valid marriage.