NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A Tennessee lawmaker said he made a mistake after suggestions of a special interest group stopped a bill that would end child marriage.
Representative Glen Casada recommended HB1461 be moved to summer session, effectively removing it from discussion in the legislature for 2018. Yet, once Casada learned Thursday that the bill would prevent marriages of children as young as 12 or 13-years-old from happening in the state, he said he would reconsider his position.
A member of the special interest group Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT) contacted Casada and told him the bill could interfere with the group's challenge of the Supreme Court of the United States same-sex marriage ruling.
A lawyer for FACT, David Fowler, said any law created by the state legislature involving marriage licenses would give merit to the SCOTUS ruling and potentially impede the pending litigation.
Also, Fowler said he believes the marriage issue is one of parental rights.
Fowler sent an email to Rep. Casada, asking him to put down HB1461.
However, Thursday Casada said he made a mistake.
"Judges are actually allowing 12 and 13-year-olds to marry," said Casada. "I did not know that information about 18 hours ago. I've got to be honest with you, I'm just shocked that a judge in Tennessee would allow a 12 and a 13 year old to get married, or a parent."
However, the bills sponsors said Casada would've known that if they had been allowed to speak.
"What disturbed me, and I hope would not be a trend, was really a suppression of an elected representative being able to speak," said representative Darren Jernigan.
Jernigan was in the Civil Justice Subcommittee when the bill was killed. Neither he, nor members from Unchained At Last, a group fighting to end child marriage across the country, were allowed to speak.
"For an organization that claims to speak on the behalf of Christian values, I'll be honest, I can't place that part of the gospel that says it's okay for a 14-year-old girl to be married to her 37-year-old rapist," said Senator Jeff Yarbro, also a sponsor of the bill.
Casada said he planned to meet with the sponsors to decide what to do next.
"This has to be addressed," said Casada. "That is unconscionable that a judge would allow this to happen."
In a phone interview Thursday, Fowler said he doubted judges in Tennessee would actually marry children as young as 12 or 13 years old. He said his position is that parents should be able to allow children to marry, but only if they're around 16-17 years old.
However, according to Unchained At Last's research, thousands of children under the age of 15 have been married in the country since the year 2000. In fact, the most extreme incidence of child marriage the found were three 10-year-old girls who were married to adult men in Tennessee in 2001.
Senator Yarbro said he looks forward to talking with representative Casada about the bill.