Tenn. lawmakers address age issue in proposed marriage bill, new problem identified

Published: Apr. 6, 2022 at 9:51 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Critics of a controversial common law marriage bill, that is working its way through the Tennessee legislature, are worried that it would allow child marriage or child sex abuse.

Now, there’s a new concern with House Bill 0233.

After an international firestorm of criticism in the last 48-hours, the bill’s sponsor, Republican Tom Leatherwood from Arlington, added an amendment that addresses the age component, effectively outlawing child marriage.

One of Leatherwood’s fellow republicans warned him, “Your bill opens up the door for bigamy.”

“This legislation has kept me up at night,” State Representative Johnny Garrett of Goodlettsville told the house Civil Justice Committee on Wednesday, April 6, “because of its ramifications and its’ consequences.”

The legislation, crafted to make common law marriage legal in Tennessee, originally had no age requirements, something Leatherwood has now changed.

“The bill would never have allowed minors to be able to be married,” he told the committee, “but I can understand how that might have been misunderstood. This amendment today explicitly states that both parties have to obtain the age of majority which is defined in Tennessee code as 18 or older.”

More than two dozen GOP lawmakers have now signed on to sponsor this bill, which defines marriage as between “one man and one woman” – a push back against gay marriage which has been legal in the U.S. since a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

“What’s clear is this bill does not come from a place of kindness and understanding,” Dakota Gavin, an opponent of the legislation, told a house subcommittee on March 23, “but rather from a place of prejudice and contempt.”

Rep. Garrett, an attorney by trade, sees another problem with the bill, it doesn’t require couples to file any paperwork or any proof of their union with the state.

“When you don’t file this certificate,” he said, “what’s going to stop me from marrying more than one person? What’s going to stop anyone? We are going to legalize bigamy in this state.”

Rep. Leatherwood told Rep. Garrett he would respectfully have to agree to disagree.

“I mean, people can commit bigamy now,” said Leatherwood, “They can commit fraud now. This bill passes and people can still do wrong things and commit fraud.”

There was no vote on House Bill 0233 in committee Wednesday. House members will take it up again next week. The full senate is scheduled to vote on it Thursday, April 7.

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