NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A proposal making its way through the state legislature would establish a common-law marriage between “one man” and “one woman.”
Opponents of the bill (HB 233) say it would eliminate an age requirement, and in some instances, open the door for a coverup of child sex abuse.
The bill’s sponsor, Tom Leatherwood (R-Arlington) said the law being considered would add a new marriage option for Tennesseans.
“So, all this bill does is give an alternative form of marriage for those pastors and other individuals who have a conscientious objection to the current pathway to marriage in our law,” Leatherwood said.
But missing from the bill are age requirements, opening the door for possible child marriages — something the bill sponsor acknowledged during a Children and Family Affairs subcommittee.
“There is not an explicit age limit,” Leatherwood said.
Rep. Mike Stewart (D-Nashville), who sits on the subcommittee the bill passed out of, said he doesn’t understand the motivation.
“I don’t think any normal person thinks we shouldn’t have an age requirement for marriage,” he said.
He added it could open up the possibility to cover up child sex abuse.
“It should not be there, as it’s basically a get-out-of-jail-free card for people who are basically committing statutory rape — I mean it’s completely ridiculous, so that’s another reason why this terrible bill should be eliminated,” Stewart said.
The Sexual Assault Center of Middle Tennessee released the following statement to News 2:
“The Sexual Assault Center does not believe the age of consent for marriage should be any younger than it already is. It makes children more vulnerable to coercion and manipulation from predators, sexual and other.”
According to UNICEF, approximately 300,000 girls and boys in the U.S. were married before reaching 18 years old between 2000-2018.
Under current Tennessee law, one can get married as young as 17 years old with parental consent.
The bill will be heard in the House Civil Justice committee Wednesday.