However, while the sponsors claim it expands marriage options, they fail to mention the consequences of having no age limit. Since the bill eliminates an age requirement for marriage, child advocates believe it opens the door for child sex abuse. This is because, without an age requirement, there is a possibility of child marriages.
The move is clearly a step back for the state because the state only signed laws prohibiting the marriage of minors under the age of 17 in 2018. According to The Tennessean, the 2018 bill prohibited anyone under the age of 17 from marrying in Tennessee and anyone under 18 from marrying someone who is four or more years older.
Previous laws before this one allowed a judge to waive the minimum age limit for marriage if guardians of a child consented.
Various state representatives have pushed back on the bill, including Rep. Mike Stewart, who said he didn’t understand the motivation behind removing the age requirements. “I don’t think any normal person thinks we shouldn’t have an age requirement for marriage.”
He added the potential increase in sex abuse. “It should not be there as it’s basically a get out of jail free card for people who are basically committing statutory rape—I mean it’s completely ridiculous, so that’s another reason why this terrible bill should be eliminated,” Steward said.
According to state data obtained by Unchained at Last, Tennessee granted at least 37 marriage licenses to 17-year-old girls in 2014, the only minors in that year. Additionally, UNICEF found 300,000 girls and boys were married before 18 in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018.
Removing an age limit only opens up doors for these statistics to grow. GOP states are clearly making moves to take the country in the opposite direction.
“The Sexual Assault Center does not believe the age of consent for marriage should be any younger than it already is. It makes children more vulnerable to coercion and manipulation from predators, sexual and other,” the Sexual Assault Center of Middle Tennessee said in a statement to WKRN.