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Tennessee Bill Could Legalize Child Marriage By Removing Age Restrictions

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Child in a dress

The legislation that some people are calling the “Marry Little Kids” Bill is being passed through Tennessee lawmakers’ offices and will be voted on later this week.

While the main goal of House Bill 0233/Senate Bill 0526 was to establish a different marriage classification as a result of LGBT marriage legalization, the primary concern has become the lack of age restriction that will come as a consequence of the bill’s passing.

The "Marital Contract At Common Law Recording Act was first introduced in the House Of Representatives by Republican Representative Tom Leatherwood and later in the Tennessee Senate by Senator Janice Bowling.

The new Tennessee bill leaves out an age restriction for marriage, potentially creating a loophole for pedophiles.

Midwest states have shown nothing if not a repeated opposition to social progression — oppressing the rights of LGBT+ members as well as women’s rights and the rights of people of color.

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This new bill is another direct opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage that occurred on June 26th in 2015.

Tennessee lawmakers behind the bill, bold in their homophobia, have created the proposed law to establish a marital hierarchy in the state.

Before the legalization of gay marriage, Tennessee’s standard model for acquiring a marriage license explicitly excluded the opportunity for same-sex marriage — this was overturned in 2015.

The new bill is basically a middle finger to that overturning, by establishing a new mold for marriage called “common law marriage,” which basically means that it’s much easier to get your monogamous relationship recognized as a marriage by law.

This allows you to enjoy all the perks of a legal marriage — tax cuts and all.

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But, the new classification — the “common law marriage” — only applies to heterosexual marriage as specifically worded with “one man and one woman.”

If that wasn’t bad enough, then the blatant legalization of child marriage puts the icing on the cake.

Current marital laws include restrictions on age, meaning child marriage was essentially banned in the state of Tennessee.

However, in this new bill, the age restrictions that were previously in place are left out of the drafts.

There are mentions in the documents that in order for the common law marriage to be legally instated, county clerks must file a record of an existing common law marriage.

This includes the acknowledgment of the pair’s dates of birth but says nothing about the clerk needing to verify that either party is of any age.

One glaring piece of evidence that the age restriction was purposefully removed is that the bill offers other restrictions similar to those included in current marriage laws.

It rules that “at the time the declaration of marriage and statement of intent to enter into a marital contract at common law was made, neither the husband nor the wife was drunk or of unsound mind or acting under force or duress.”

Not only that, but the writing in the new bill was “clearly borrowed,” according to Snopes, when they cross-reference the legislation behind both marriage models.

Leatherwood, the primary sponsor of House Bill 0233 has addressed these claims and explained that his intention was not to legalize child marriage or remove the age restrictions on marriage.

When asked on March 23rd if there was an age limit for the bill, he said “No, there is not an explicit age limit,” but further elaborated that he believed the bill would be implemented in a way that excluded children.

“[Common law marriage] is a contract, and I believe that this would not allow minors, children under the age of 18 who haven’t even reached the age of consent — I don’t think the courts would uphold, with this bill, that they could enter into a marital contract here,” he said.

But this is all speculation and there’s no telling how the courts will implement the legislation, so why not include the age restrictions as a safeguard from the beginning?

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Isaac Serna-Diez is a writer who focuses on entertainment and news, social justice, and politics. Follow him on Twitter.