Republicans in the Tennessee state legislature are so mad that the gays and theys can marry that their homophobic solution has opened up an even bigger can of worms. A pair of bills introduced in the state House and Senate (HB 233 and SB 562) seek to establish a new kind of marriage between only a man and only a woman in the state. Lawmakers in both chambers neglected to add any age of consent, opening the state up to child marriages, assuming said children have the right body parts.
“There is not an explicit age limit,” state Rep. Tom Leatherwood (R), who introduced the House bill, told WJHL11. The bill notably does outlaw marriages of incest, though, so it looks like eliminating age requirements from this new type of marriage was a choice.
Fraidy Reiss, founder and executive director of Unchained At Last, told Jezebel that this bill would open a “dangerous window” in Tenessee. “This bill would move Tennessee backwards, again,” Reiss told Jezebel by phone, noting that Tennessee only added a minimum age for marriage in 2018. “Moving it back to zero is obnoxious and offensive. What Tennessee should do is end all child marriage, no exceptions.”
Though her organization focuses on ending child and forced marriages across the country, Reiss recognized how marriage is being weaponized. “[Tennessee is] sacrificing children in this bonkers attempt to overturn a U.S. Supreme Court decision,” she told Jezebel.
Bill authors are calling it a “Record of Marital Contract at Common Law,” which basically creates a separate class of marriage in Tennessee for the heterosexuals. There is no reason to do this—other than blatant homophobia—because straight people already have access to marriage certificates in the state. The legislation spends a lot of time throwing constitutional amendments at the reader, attempting to dismantle Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court decision from 2015 that legalized marriage equality.
You would think the Republican Party’s worries about “grooming” and rampant crimes against children would mean they would want to protect children’s right to not marry adults. You’d think, at a time when GOP politicians have taken to calling literally anyone who disagrees with them on policy a pedophile, that they would have enough awareness not to “accidentally” legalize child marriage right now. But instead, the rights of children may become yet another sacrifice conservative politicians are willing to make on their quest to eliminate queer people from legal, if not scientific, existence.