CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — In West Virginia you can void a marriage if at the time of the wedding one party was insane, an imbecile, an idiot, impotent or had a venereal disease, among other reasons.
The West Virginia House Judiciary Committee spent much of its meeting Thursday trying to sort out state laws on voided marriages, laws that lawmakers of both parties said were antiquated and in need of change.
A voided marriage is different from a divorce in that a voided marriage never legally existed. A voided marriage was invalid from the beginning. The difference affects how property is divided and how support payments are imposed.
Amid giggles, the committee adopted an amendment changing the language that voids marriage for insanity and imbecility to language that refers to those people as “legally incompetent.”
Del. Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, proposed scrapping the entire section on voided marriage. He said that doing so would strengthen the institution in the state.
“If it is the policy of the state of West Virginia that marriage is an institution that should be cherished and promoted and should not be easily entered into without gravity and seriousness, then the very concept of voidable marriage is repugnant,” Skinner said.
The amendment failed with delegates noting that every other state has voiding laws. Delegates also expressed concern about young people who impulsively get married in Las Vegas.
Del. John Ellem, R-Wood, proposed eliminating the option of voiding a marriage if one party is a felon.
“I believe it is archaic. Nowadays as compared to 60, 70 years ago, who isn’t a felon? We’ve got so many felonies on the book it’s insane,” Ellem said. “I can’t imagine if you really loved the person why it would make a difference.”
Skinner agreed that the laws were outdated.
“These are absolutely archaic laws that don’t deal with the modern reality of treating marriage seriously,” Skinner said. “Apparently marriage is in such a crisis that for the last couple years we’ve been promoting constitutional amendments about it, so let’s take it seriously.”
There have been three proposals this session, from members of both parties, to constitutionally define marriage as one man and one woman. None has been successful.
Del. Woody Ireland, R-Ritchie, disagreed.
“I take issue with the term of things being archaic, maybe that’s because of my age,” said Ireland, who is 70. “The fact that something has been around a while doesn’t mean that it’s not good.”
Ellem’s proposal also failed.
A marriage can also be voided if prior to the marriage the wife was pregnant with someone else’s child or if she was notoriously a prostitute or if the husband was notoriously licentious.
Del. Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, proposed making that section of the code gender neutral so that a marriage could be voided if a husband had fathered a child without the wife’s knowledge. She referenced Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Alas, the committee ran out of time to discuss Fleischauer’s proposal.