In Kentucky and Tennessee, two bills aiming to end child marriage have met significant resistance and from unlikely groups at that.
Child marriage—involving someone under 18—is a big problem in the United States and often goes unnoticed. In many states, there’s an exception to laws about people getting married at 18 that allows for marriage at a younger age with parental permission or approval from a judge. The vast majority of these child marriages are between a child and an adult; comparatively very few are between two teens. According to Salon, in 25 states, for people seeking to use the exception, there’s no minimum age at all. Worse, in some states, if the girl is pregnant, there’s no age of consent to get married, which very frequently leads to a young girl being married off to her rapist.
In Kentucky, you have to be 18 to get married or 16 or 17 with a parent’s permission. However, if the child is pregnant, there’s no minimum age if a judge approves—they often do. Kentucky is third in the country in child marriages, and a recent bill, Senate Bill 48, wanted to restrict marriages at 17 years old to ones that only allowed the spouse to be four years older and required a judge’s consent. It also would call for the judge to review their history, the teen’s maturity and whether the girl had been impregnated while underage.
Senate Bill 48 would be an amendment to Kentucky’s marriage law, and that’s where conservative Christian groups are opposing it. One senator said the bill would keep parents from making decisions for their children.
In Tennessee, many of the same laws and exceptions are in place, which is why a similar bill was killed and then revived. One of the bill’s major detractors said that, if passed, the bill could interfere with a legal fight against gay marriage. Former state Senator and current president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee David Fowler is planning to counter the 2015 Supreme Court case that legalized gay marriage by arguing that allowing gay marriage voided all Tennessee marriage licenses, so passing a law that fights child marriage would acknowledge that Tennessee has marriage laws.
From the Chattanooga Times Free Press:
Fowler maintained that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which says the right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, doesn’t address fundamental issues.
As a state senator, Fowler sponsored a change to the Tennessee Constitution barring same-sex marriages. It was approved by voters in 2006. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling invalidated the effect of his state constitutional amendment.
Fowler’s legal theory is the Supreme Court held state laws that exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms as heterosexual couples are invalid. So, he said, are any marriages valid?
“How do you get a right to get a license under a law that’s been invalid? Are license laws self excuting? No, they are not. Can the Supreme Court amend laws? No, they cannot.”
According to the Tennessean, three 10-year-old girls have been legally married in Tennessee.
Many evangelical and orthodox religious groups tend to back child marriage, even ones that follow statutory rape. The Roy Moore scandals and supporters proved that. Votes and debate on these respective bills are expected to happen soon.