RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina's minimum age to be married is now higher after Gov. Roy Cooper signed a measure Thursday increasing it from 14 to 16.

The increase, which takes effect immediately but doesn't void previous marriages, comes after the General Assembly gave unanimous support to the new threshold earlier this month.

North Carolina lawmakers acted as officials said the state had turned recently into a destination locale for out-of-state couples seeking to wed and in which one marriage applicant is a minor. States adjoining North Carolina had raised their minimum age to 16 or 17 in recent years.

North Carolina’s new law still requires 16- or 17-year-olds to receive parental permission or a judge’s approval to get married, and the age difference between the youth and their spouse now can be no more than four years.

Women’s rights advocates and child protection groups this year sought unsuccessfully to raise North Carolina's age to 18 with no exceptions — which is the law in six states.

“This legislation is an important step toward ending child marriage in North Carolina and instituting more protections for children,” Cooper said in a news release announcing the bill signing. "While it falls short of raising the age of marriage to 18, it will make our state a safer place for children.”

Now Alaska is the lone state whose law expressly allows marriages as young as 14, according to the group Unchained at Last. There's no set minimum age in nine states, where they rely instead on case law or a judge’s rulings.

A study by the International Center for Research on Women found North Carolina ranked among the top five states in the number of minors listed on marriage applications between 2000 and 2015.