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Tennessee proposed legislation could bypass marriage age requirements

marriage, wedding
Posted at 6:04 PM, Apr 05, 2022

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Marriage between "one man and one woman" is the focus of a new bill making its way through the state legislature. Supporters say it would provide an alternative marriage option for couples, but opponents say it's discriminatory.

Chris Sanders with the Tennessee Equality Project said the specific "one man and one woman" text flies in the face of federal law.

"They may want something that we don't have access to. They may be sore losers about the Obergefell 2015 Supreme Court decision," Sanders said of proponents of this new bill. "But that's the way it goes."

The legislation states "one (1) man and one (1) woman may file with the office of the county clerk in the county in which one (1) of the parties to the marital contract resides a document entitled "Record of Marital Contract at Common Law'."

"It doesn't take away the ability of us to marry, but it establishes a separate process, and if there's something so great about that process we should be able to be in on it too," said Sanders.

But there's another concern — it's not what's in the legislation; it's what's missing from it.

"The really scary issue with the bill though, is the fact that it has no age restriction, which opens the door to child marriage," said Sanders.

This comes after a 2018 law set clear rules about underage marriages in Tennessee.

"But those all stick to the marriage license law," said Sanders. "If you have established a separate process, all that doesn't automatically kick in to this newfangled marriage registration system."

Sanders worries the bill is a step backwards for Tennessee and its protection against child brides.

Rep. Tom Leatherwood, who sponsored the bill, sent a statement about it.

"This bill changes nothing in current law regarding marriage, and does not allow minors to get married. It establishes another pathway to marriage in TN law that addresses the conscientious objections, based on deeply held religious convictions, that a number of pastors and individuals have with the current law and certificate. This bill would produce a marriage certificate that would reflect marriage as being between one man and one woman. This certificate would be filed with the county clerk.

In current law in TN, a man can marry a man, and the marriage certificate reflects that. If this bill passes, a man can still marry a man and the certificate would still reflect that. But there would also be an alternative form that would say marriage is between a man and a woman, and a certificate would reflect that."