Why Did the Tennessee GOP Try to Block a Ban on Child Marriage?

She was just 14. After experiencing the death of her father and finding herself at the mercy of an abusive mother, the teen began acting out, eventually ending up in a mental health institute. While there, a staff member at the facility — a 29-year-old man — began grooming her. Soon, the teenager was released, and she began dating the staffer with her mother’s consent.

The man later propositioned her for marriage and, seeing it as a way to get away from her abusive family, she accepted at just 16. Just a year later, she was pregnant. After giving birth, her husband became increasingly manipulative and physically abusive. Several years later, she would seek divorce and lose custody of her daughter in the process.

To some readers, this might sound like a story from an impoverished part of the world where views about the age of consent and child marriage haven’t yet caught up to 2018. Instead, this happened legally — right here in the United States.

Believe it or not, such marriage arrangements are perfectly legal in several states, including Tennessee. There, 42 men and 166 women, all minors, were legally married in 2016 alone. In at least three instances, a 10-year-old girl has married an adult in Tennessee, thanks to the state’s antiquated laws.

It gets worse, though. According to Democratic State Sen. Jeff Yarbro, of the roughly 9,000 marriage licenses issued in Tennessee since 2000, over 85 percent involved an underage girl wedding an adult man.

In Tennessee, an oft-exploited legal loophole does not forbid legal marriage based upon age; for those under 16, a public official, such as a judge, must give his or her approval.

When Democratic lawmakers in the state caught wind of this policy, they pushed to vote through a new bill that would close this loophole. But before the proposed legislation could even reach the floor for a vote in the state House, Republicans moved to send the bill for review over the summer session. And that likely means that the bill won’t ever be voted on.

Republican Tennessee House Majority Leader Glen Casada says he and others believed passage of the bill could potentially harm a legal case currently being mounted against the U.S. Supreme Court. That case aims to challenge the landmark 2015 ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

What does child marriage have to do with adult gay marriage? According to Sen. Casada, who motioned to effectively toss out the bill, David Fowler, the president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, provides a persuasive answer.

In an email sent to Casada, Fowler explained that the lawsuit against the U.S. Supreme Court hinged on the argument that the 2015 decision effectively nullified all marriages in Tennessee. And if Tennessee itself redefines the legal parameters of marriage, the state will show that such modifications can be made without voiding existing marriages.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Family Action Council of Tennessee is an evangelical Christian group that seeks to promote “traditional” values. And ironically, while FACT claims to oppose same-sex marriage because it harms “healthy families and communities” and attacks Christian “culture,” the group somehow sees no problem with allowing a 10-year-old girl to marry a man three or four times her age.

After facing pressure from mounting public scrutiny, Sen. Casada says he will revoke his motion to table the child-bride bill and will permit further discussion. But hopefully lawmakers can do more than simply discuss whether or not adults should be able to legally wed pre-teen children — after all, it’s 2018.

Take Action!

If you believe that it’s time for the Tennessee State House to finally vote on a bill aimed at banning pre-18 marriages, make your voice heard! Add your name to this Care2 petition, and tell Tennessee House Majority Leader Glen Casada to take the bill to the floor for a vote!

Concerned about an issue? Want to raise awareness about an injustice? Join your fellow Care2 users by learning how to make your own petition and make your voice heard today!

Photo Credit: SinanAyhan / Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie W7 months ago

Thank you

Jean Dahlquist
Jean Dahlquistabout a year ago

So gross. I don't understand how this is even an issue. Or maybe I do, I just don't want to think about it.

Elaine W
Elaine Wabout a year ago

The GOP has been hijacked by the worst opportunistic grifters and hypocritical hateful cons. My mother who loved her Eisenhower Republican Party would not recognize it today.

Amanda M
Amanda Mabout a year ago

Petition signed with a vengeance! It continues to disgust me how the CHINOs have no idea what marriage really means-it is a LEGAL contract between TWO CONSENTING ADULTS, and it's based in loving each other enough to want to be together for life! To the CHINOs, however, it's a religious binding of a man and a female (notice I didn't say woman because that implies adult!) for the sole purpose of trying to breed as many little Christians as possible. Women are NOTHING to these people but tongueless brood mares, and marriage for any other reason (such as loving each other regardless of whether or not you can procreate!) is/should be invalid in their eyes. BARF.

KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssuesabout a year ago


KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssuesabout a year ago

Unbelievably disgusting! : (

KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssuesabout a year ago


Sonia M

Actually disgusting.Petition signed thanks for sharing

Lisa M
Lisa Mabout a year ago

Ugghh, I am going to puke! These bible-beating, hillbilly, inbred freaks are nothing but vile, disgusting monsters.

Winn A
Winn Adamsabout a year ago