Sometimes, the events of real life line up a little too closely with television. We’ve all seen the jokes about the Simpsons predicting the future, right? But there are some shows whose plot lines should stay in TV land — like anything from Law & Order: SVU. Unfortunately, Tennessee Republicans are making one SVU plot come to life with a bill that would eliminate age requirements for marriage in the state.
Introduced in January, H.B.233 aims to establish a common-law marriage class specifically for marriages between “one man” and “one woman.” The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Tom Leatherwood (R), told local outlet WJHL, “All this bill does is 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.”
This bill is obviously an attempt to attack and delegitimize same-gender marriages and offers up protections to local officials who discriminate against those couples. But when conservatives lash out at the LGBTQ+ community, children more broadly are often caught in the crossfires, as we’ve seen with Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
In Tennessee, Democrats have fired back against H.B.233 because it doesn’t include age requirements for marriage. This isn’t an oversight: Leatherwood acknowledged as much during a Children and Family Affairs subcommittee. The lack of age requirements is huge considering Tennessee ranks 13th-highest for child marriages per capita, with nearly 10,000 kids getting marriage licenses between 2000 and 2018.
“I don’t think any normal person thinks we shouldn’t have an age requirement for marriage,” state Rep. Mike Stewart (D) said, per WJHL. “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.”
In 2018, Tennessee passed a law banning anyone under the age of 17 from getting married. While conservatives continue with the usual gay panic by crying wolf about “grooming” and “pedophilia,” this new bill is basically the state taking a step back in protecting children and allowing pedophilia to go unchecked — as long as it’s carried out between heterosexual couples.