Is the New Proposed Tennessee Law for Age Requirements for Marriage a Good Idea?

Elected officials are entrusted with passing laws that hopefully better our society. Some are designed to restrict dangerous activity, while others empower citizens. Most new laws address a unique aspect of our lives. However, there are laws that seem almost counterproductive.

A Tennessee Republican lawmaker is pushing one such bill. At first glance, it would be easy to question the GOP state representative’s motivation for such a proposal. Tennessee Representative Tom Leatherwood is the lawmaker introducing the bill.

The new law would eliminate the age limit for when couples could get married. The legislation would also make it easier for “one man and one woman” to be considered a common law union. Leatherwood says the bill offers an option for anyone who objects to the current system.

The biggest problem opponents have is the elimination of any age restriction. Opponents, such as Nashville Democrat Mike Stewart, believe the law opens the door for sexual abuse. Stewart’s view seems to have a fair degree of logic behind it.

He contends that “I don’t think any normal person thinks we shouldn’t have an age requirement for marriage.” Nevertheless, looking around the country, only six U.S. states actually ban underage marriage. Many organizations contend underage marriage triggers domestic abuse.

There is also a concern over early dropouts and adolescent pregnancies. The bill already survived a Tennessee Senate committee hearing by passing with a 6-3 vote. Later this week, the Tennessee House of Representatives' Civil Justice Committee will debate the bill.

This law also begs the question of how it will address the disparity between the legal age of marriage and the age of sexual consent. While the age of consent varies by state, all 50 state laws are between 16 and 18. However, some states allow marriage as young as 12 years old.

A number of legal questions could be raised by erasing the age requirement for marriage. These issues will certainly be important parts of upcoming debates. Hopefully, the importance of these significant issues will not be minimized.

Any effort to repeal or modify the legal age requirement should prioritize children. That’s what any underage person is. An alteration of the marriage laws can never create a pathway for sexual abuse. If the law has even a chance of that happening, it must be reconsidered.

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