Tennessee Bill Could Legalize Child Marriage and Eliminate Age Requirements

An image of the Tennessee State Capitol.
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The bill, which already passed the House subcommittee, went before the House Civil Justice Committee on Wednesday. On Thursday the full Senate will hear the bill.

Lawmakers in Tennessee this week will vote on a bill that would establish common law marriages between “one man and one woman” and potentially legalize child marriage in the state, according to published news reports.

There would be no age requirements on the proposed legislation, raising concerns that it may open a corridor for child sex abuse, The Hill reported.

While others concede that the bill could threaten those in the LGBTQ community and compromise the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, the news outlet reported.

Currently, 24 Tennessee Republicans are sponsoring the proposed legislation, according to NBC Action News5.  

Under current Tenessee law, a person as young as 17 may be married with parental consent, The Hill reported.

Several states have outlawed child marriage, but the practice remains legal in 44 states, including Tennessee, the news outlet reported. 

According to Unchained, a non-profit organization that combats forced and child marriage in the U.S., nearly 300,000 minors, under age 18 and as young as 10, were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018. Most were girls who wed adult men an average of four years older, according to its website.

In 2017, Delaware and New Jersey became the first two states to end what Unchained called “human-rights abuse.” Followed by American Samoa in 2018, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Pennsylvania. Minnesota ended child marriage in 2020 and Rhode Island and New York in 2021, Unchained reported on its site. 

The bill, which already passed the House subcommittee, went before the House Civil Justice Committee on Wednesday and on Thursday the full Senate will hear the bill, according to NBC Action News5. 

State Rep. Tom Leatherwood (R), the bill's sponsor has argued that the bill would create a new marriage option for Tennessee residents, The Hill reported. 

“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,” Leatherwood said as he debated the legislation, ABC-affiliate WKRN reported.

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