Tennessee bill aims to end child marriage by raising age from 16 to 18

A bill proposed by Tennessee lawmakers will end child marriage by raising the age for legal marriage from 16 to 18-years-old. PHOTO: MGN

NASHVILLE, Tenn.--A bill proposed by Tennessee lawmakers will end child marriage by raising the age for legal marriage from 16 to 18-years-old.

Currently, parties 16 and 17-years-old can receive a marriage license in the state of Tennessee if parents join in the marriage license application. Judges or county mayors can also approve marriages of people under 16.

“When a local official signs over and allows 10,12,14,15 girl to marry a 30 year-old man, it gets very close to aiding and abetting a crime and under the current way the code is written there is no way to stop that," Sen. Yarbro said.

Under the new bill, that age would be raised to 18 and make it unlawful for any country or deputy clerk to issue a marriage license to parties under that age. SB1790 and HB1785 is sponsored by Senator Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, and Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory.

In a statement release from the Democratic Caucus on Monday, they note Tennessee is tied for the sixth-highest rate of child marriage according to the Pew Research Center.

According to data collected by Pew Research from 2010-2014, 5.5 per 1,000 Tennesseans between the ages of 15 and 17 were married during that time period. The rate tied Tennessee for sixth with California. Only West Virginia, Texas, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Arkansas had higher rates.

A group called Unchained At Last has done an exhaustive study of marriage and said 85 percent of child marriages in Tennessee are an adult man marrying an underage woman.

Unchained said people who marry as teens are more likely to drop out of school, live in poverty and be physically abused. People who marry under age 18 are also too young to get a restraining order or even hire a divorce attorney.

“Something as simple like after being abused, you walk out the door, you can be picked up as a runaway," said Fraidy Reiss, Unchained at Last executive director. "You can’t even legally leave your spouse."

Since 2001, Unchained At Last said they found three instances where 10-year-old children in Tennessee were allowed to get married, but they did not provide the names or counties.

“I can't fathom that under the age of 18, those brains are developed and formed to make those kinds of decisions that are last for the rest of your life,” Rep. Darren Jernigan said.

See the bill below or CLICK HERE.

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