no words

GOP Rep. suggests new form of marriage: excludes gay couples but allows kids

Rep. Tom Leatherwood of Tennessee
Rep. Tom Leatherwood, of Arlington, Tennessee (Photo: MayorMike1967, via CC BY-SA 4.0)

A Republican Representative in Tennessee is trying to introduce new legislation to offer an alternative form of marriage: One that removes minimum age requirements and is aimed at opposite-sex couples only.

Tom Leatherwood is a representative for Arlington, TN. He is the sponsor of HB 233. He says the aim of the bill is to “give an alternative form of marriage for those pastors and other individuals who have a conscientious objection to the current pathway to marriage in our law.”

HB 233 legislates over “common-law” marriage. It would allow a man and a woman to go to a county clerk and simply declare that they’re in a “common law marriage.”

Leatherwood conceded, according to WJHL, “There is not an explicit age limit” mentioned in the bill.

It would also require the state’s attorney general to defend any local leader or the state if they decided to deny a marriage license to a same-sex couple.

Related: “I told you so”: Liz Cheney’s gay sister responds to her u-turn on same-sex marriage

The bill passed the Tennessee House’s Children and Family Affairs subcommittee on Monday. It is due to be debated in the House Civil Justice Committee today.

At the moment, people can get married in Tennessee at 17 if they have parental consent. It only became illegal for minors to marry in 2018.

At an earlier debate in late March, Leatherwood was explicitly asked by Democratic Rep. Torrey Harris, if his law was passed, “What would stop a 16-year-old going to a courthouse and getting this done, as there’s no age restriction in this law?”

Leatherhead said, “I think it would be construed that minors would not be able to enter into this.”

“Assumed?” asked Harris. “So we’re going to take the assumption that they would not include minors in this?”

Leatherhead, smiling, replied there’s always “a bit of an assumption” on every bill, “because we never know what court will say what on anything.”

Opponents of the bill remain worried that HB 233 could open the door to child marriages. Democratic Nashville Rep. Mike Stewart said the bill offers a “get-out-of-jail-free card for people who are basically committing statutory rape.”

Human rights lawyer Qasim Rashid called the bill, “horrifying and unacceptable.”

MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid tweeted her disgust.

Related: Tennessee just snuck through a law to chip away at marriage equality and hardly anyone noticed

The UN defines child marriage as one where one of the participants is under 18. Tennessee, allowing marriage at 17 with parental consent, comes fifth in a ranking of states allowing some form of child marriage (Texas comes top). Only six states fully prohibit child marriage.

If the bill proceeds to the House, it’s likely to pass as it’s dominated by Republicans.