You may have heard that a new bill the Tennessee legislature is considering would eliminate the minimum age of marriage now in the state statutes. Up until 2018, the minimum age could be waived by a judge if the guardians approved; in 2000, there were over 1,000 Tennesseean girls 16 and 17 who got married, in one case to a 26-year-0ld. (the numbers are a lot lower in recent years). The 2018 bill set an absolute floor of 17, and the partner couldn’t be more than four years older.
Tennessee is not unique. Way underage marriage happens much more than you might think. It’s a way to control girls’ sexuality, and to keep them under a man’s control, a father-to-husband pipeline that gives them no chance to experience independence. For many religious conservatives, being exposed to the wider world without male control is a bad thing. A lot of conservatives are cool with statutory rape victims marrying their rapist.
In a detailed analysis, Snopes points out the bill was not primarily written to allow child marriage. The primary purpose of the original bill was to eliminate marriage licenses in favor of private contracts registered with the state; contracts which could only be between a heterosexual couple. So an end run around gay marriage, though I can’t see it as a viable alternative when the lawsuits hit (then again, with the current Supreme Court …). The revised bill now inconsideration simply sets up the common-law contract marriage as an option; I assume they’ll try killing licenses down the road.
The new system inherits a lot of restrictions applied to marriage licenses, such as not getting married if you’re already hitched, not marrying your sibling, etc. … but it omits any age limit. Snopes accepts the bills’ sponsors’ statements this was just an error. Given that having a set age limit is such a recent innovation there, I’m skeptical.
While it’s easy to focus on the hypocrisy when Republicans are pretending to be so very, very concerned about protecting kids from “groomers,” this would be a bad bill even if they weren’t hypocrites. And even if their prime directive were protecting kids, Don’t Say Gay — which is spreading from Florida to other states and then more — would be bad. And at least one of the stories DeSantis tells to justify it — a school district decided on its own initiative to classify a girl as a trans boy and treat them accordingly — is a lie. They’re treating anything that acknowledges kids can be gay as grooming.
But they think it’s a political winner so we have hacks like Mollie Hemingway the Federalist declaring that Mitt Romney voting for Justice Jackson to join SCOTUS makes him pro-pedophile. And the general freakout over Disney. And even if it fails, they’ll keep at it, because culture war is all they’re competent at.
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