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GOP bill would eliminate age requirements for marriages in Tennessee to establish a common-law union

GOP bill would eliminate age requirements for marriages in Tennessee to establish a common-law union 2

A Republican-proposed bill in Tennessee would remove the age limit for when couple’s could exchange wedding vows and clear the way for ‘common-law marriages’ between ‘one man and one woman.’ 

Representative Tom Leatherwood, 65, of Arlington, introduced the bill into the state’s House that would eliminate the current age requirement of 17 and allow for ‘alternative forms of marriage’ to those who ‘conscientiously object to the current pathway to marriage.’  

‘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,’ the Republican father-of-five said, according to WJHL. ‘There is not an explicit age limit.’ 

Opponents are worried if the bill passes into law, it could be used to cover up child sex abuse and statutory rape.  

Bill sponsor Tom Leatherwood, 65, is proposing 'alternative forms of marriage' to those who 'conscientiously object to the current pathway to marriage'

Bill sponsor Tom Leatherwood, 65, is proposing ‘alternative forms of marriage’ to those who ‘conscientiously object to the current pathway to marriage’

GOP bill would eliminate age requirements for marriages in Tennessee to establish a common-law union 3

The bill would eliminate statues on marriage licensing and ceremonies and limit the courts in cases involving the definition of 'common-law marriages.' The House is set to hear the bill on Wednesday

The bill would eliminate statues on marriage licensing and ceremonies and limit the courts in cases involving the definition of ‘common-law marriages.’ The House is set to hear the bill on Wednesday 

Democratic Nashville Representative Mike Stewart, 57, called the bill a 'get-out-of-jail-free card for people who are basically committing statutory rape'

Democratic Nashville Representative Mike Stewart, 57, called the bill a ‘get-out-of-jail-free card for people who are basically committing statutory rape’

Democratic Nashville Representative Mike Stewart, 57, called the bill 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,’ he said. ‘I don’t think any normal person thinks we shouldn’t have an age requirement for marriage.’ 

Tennessee is currently the 13th largest state per capita for child marriages, falling behind Texas, Alabama, Utah, Oklahoma, and Nevada, the biggest since 2018, and more. Texas has married roughly 42,000 children, the biggest number of children per state, while California has married off roughly 24,000, and Tennessee almost 10,000. 

Under the current Tennessee law, a person can get married as young as 17 as long as they have parental consent. It only began illegal for minors under the age of 17 to get married in 2018. Prior to that, Tennesseans could bypass the age requirement as long as a judge waived the age limit through parental consent. 

The bill doesn’t address same-sex marriages, which were banned by Tennessee in 1996 before the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in 2015 made it legal in all 50 states. 

The bill comes after Florida passed the Parental Rights Act – which has been dubbed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill – which Republicans are using to ban the discussion of sex and gender in the classroom. Republicans have increasingly claimed that liberal advocating to strike down the bill are ‘grooming’ and ‘sexualizing’ children by indoctrinating them.  

The Sexual Assault Center of Middle Tennessee has also denounced the bill, saying it ‘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,’ the organization said in a statement. 

According to UNICEF, roughly 300,000 Americans were married before turning 18 between 2000 to 2018. 

Roughly one in five women will be married prior to turning 18, leaving 10million girls at risk. Before the pandemic, roughly 100,000 girls worldwide were expected to marry before the legal age, but that has since spiked to the millions, the agency said. 

Nearly 300,000 children were married underage from 2000 to 2018. Since the pandemic started, 10million girls are at risk of becoming a child bride

Nearly 300,000 children were married underage from 2000 to 2018. Since the pandemic started, 10million girls are at risk of becoming a child bride 

Underage marriages largely affect girls, with boys experiencing it roughly only a sixth of the time, according to UNICEF. 

The organization also reported that child marriages often lead to domestic abuse, children dropping out of school, and adolescent girls becoming pregnant and facing high-risk pregnancies. 

Only six states in the US ban underage marriages. Those states are: Delaware, New Jersey, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and New York. 

The Tennessee bill also proposes that the state should have to defend any clerk who refuses to issue a marriage license. 

The Tennessee House of Representatives’ Civil Justice Committee is set to hear the bill on Wednesday. It has already passed 6-3 in the state’s Senate committee hearing. 

Leatherwood has been a house member of the 111th and the current 112th General Assemblies and is the current Vice Chair of the Health Committee. He was also a Senate member of the 98th through 101st General Assemblies. 

A Tennessee bill is proposing to remove the age limit from 'common-law marriages,' leaving the opposition scared it could cover up child sex abuse

A Tennessee bill is proposing to remove the age limit from ‘common-law marriages,’ leaving the opposition scared it could cover up child sex abuse

Children can be married as young as 12 in many US states as long as they have parental consent

Only certain states provide martial exemptions for statutory rape, meaning spouses of underage children who are legally married cannot be charged with raping a minor

Only certain states provide martial exemptions for statutory rape, meaning spouses of underage children who are legally married cannot be charged with raping a minor 

In 44 states, children in the US can get married under the age of 18. 

Although each state sets its own age limit, some states allow children as young as 12 to be married off to an adult, leaving minors in a vulnerable position where they can legally marry before being old enough to consent to sex. The age of consent varies by state, but is between the ages of 16 and 18. 

Fourteen states’ child marriage laws violate statutory rape laws, according to the Journal of Adolescent Health. 

Meanwhile, 11 states, including Oregon, North and South Dakota, and Alabama, do not provide marital exemptions, meaning spouses of underage children who are legally married cannot be charged with raping a minor. 

Ten states, however, only provide one in ‘some crimes.’

However, the vast majority of the US does provide an exemption to ‘all crimes,’ according to McGill. These states include: Texas, Ohio, Washington, New York, Hawaii, and more. 

Researchers found that a proportion of underage marriages that meet the definition of a sex crime vary from 1 percent to more than 50 percent, with exemptions. Without exemptions, it can be as high as 80 percent, McGill reported. 

‘Our study exposes the inconsistency between laws that permit children to marry and laws that criminalize sex with children across the US. The research shows that some child marriages are indistinguishable from sex crimes,’ a McGill Professor said.  

Massachusetts has the youngest age limit, with girls 12 and up and boys 14 and up able to marry with parental consent, according to World Population. 

Other states – such as Arkansas and New Hampshire – also have differing ages for males and females. Arkansas limits underage women to 16 and older, while males have to be 17. Meanwhile, New Hampshire is 13 for girls and 14 for boys. 

California does not have an age limit, as long as parental consent is obtained, according to World Population. 

Only six states have banned underage marriage. The states are: Delaware, New Jersey, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and New York. 

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