Democrats’ bill to ban underage marriage killed, replaced by GOP version

A Democrat-sponsored bill to prohibit marriage of persons under age 18 was killed Tuesday in a Senate committee and replaced with a Republican-sponsored measure that allow those aged 16 and 17 to wed with parental permission – so long as the newlyweds are within four years of being the same age.

The original “child bride bill” (HB1785) by Rep. Darren Jernigan and Sen. Jeff Yarbro, both Nashville Democrats, has been killed, resurrected, amended and otherwise gone through some transformations during considerable debate. The latest version would have allowed 17-year-olds to wed with parental permission if they were within three years of the same age while flatly forbidding marriage at 16 or younger.

The Senate Judiciary Committee shot down the Democrats bill Tuesday after it had been sent back to the panel by Republicans from the floor. Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) then brought up a caption bill (SB2268) that was amended and approved by the GOP-controlled committee as a substitute.

Yager issued this statement to media via the Senate Republican Caucus:

“Child marriage is a barbaric practice that has no place in Tennessee. All members in both chambers agree. This bill ends the practice while allowing certain young adults between the age of 16 and 18 to get married with parental permission. Under this bill, men will no longer be able to use the marriage laws of this state to prey on young girls. I am hopeful this bill will allow members of the General Assembly to speak with the loudest and most unified voice on this matter.

“As amended, Senate Bill 2268 ends the practice of child marriage in Tennessee. The bill ends most marriages involving those under the age of 18. It allows exemptions only for those 16 and above who have parental permission. Those between the ages of 16 and 18 who have parental permission can only marry if their prospective spouse is within four years of their age which is consistent with the laws of Tennessee regarding statutory rape.

Further from The Tennessean:

“Frankly, it is embarrassing the Senate Judiciary Committee would pass a bill that largely condones the ability for people to force minors to marry,” Yarbro said. “I didn’t care whether it’s my bill or Yager’s bill so long as it does something to protect minors from being sold or forced to marry.”

The Democratic sponsors cited higher divorce rates and instances of abuse for married minors and possible legal complications for those seeking ways out of such relationships.

…According to state data obtained by the national nonprofit Unchained at Last, Tennessee granted 37 marriage licenses to 17-year-old girls in 2014, the only minors in that year. In those cases, the grooms were ages 18 and 19.

By comparison, in 2000, the state issued 1,256 marriage licenses to 16- and 17-year-olds, including 1,094 to 16- and 17-year-old girls. In those cases, the oldest groom was 26, according to the state data analyzed by the organization.

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