Metro Weekly

Tennessee GOP killed bill banning child marriage to maintain challenge to gay marriage

Social conservatives want to pursue legal strategy arguing that marriage equality has made all marriages invalid

Tennessee State Capitol building - Photo: photoua
Tennessee State Capitol building – Photo: photoua

Tennessee House Republicans have reversed course and will revive a bill banning child marriages, which was killed because some lawmakers wanted to pursue a legal strategy aimed at overturning same-sex marriages.

House Majority Leader Glen Casada (R-Franklin) announced the bill would be revived next Tuesday, when members of the House Civil Justice Subcommittee are expected to make a motion. If the motion passes, the full bill will be reconsidered by the full House Justice Committee.

Republicans initially voted to kill the bill by sending it to summer study session at Casada’s request. Casada said he was motivated by an email from former State Sen. David Fowler, now the president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, reports The Tennessean.

In the letter to Casada, Fowler fretted that the bill banning child marriages could interfere with a lawsuit FACT is mounting to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision legalizing marriage equality.

FACT’s lawsuit is based on the presumption that Tennessee lawmakers would never have voted to allow same-sex couples to marry. If the Supreme Court requires the statute to apply to same-sex couples, that means the entire statute is invalid. Therefore, FACT argues, the court’s decision essentially has made all marriages since June 26, 2015 — and possibly ever — void.

But the theory behind Fowler’s argument would be nullified if Tennessee were to pass the child marriage bill, as they would be updating their laws, and, thus, implicitly acknowledging the validity of same-sex marriage.

But Casada says he was encouraged to revive the child marriage ban after seeing media reports about a loophole in the law that allows judges and mayors to circumvent the state’s current marriage laws by eliminating a three-day waiting period for marriage licenses and the current minimum age limit for marrying.

“Judges can rule that a 12-year-old can marry someone who is over 18. I just didn’t think that would exist,” Casada told The Tennessean. “That’s when the legislature has to act.”

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