A bill in Tennessee that would have prevented child marriage without exception effectively died in the House Wednesday under unique circumstances: a conservative attorney argued passing the law could upend his case against same-sex marriage.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory, calls for the state to outlaw marriages where one of the parties is under 18 years of age.
Jernigan, and Senate sponsor Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, pointed out a loophole in February that gives a judge discretion to grant marriage certificates to underage individuals with no minimum age limit.
Though supporters of the bill argued that change in the law is necessary to protect children, particularly young girls, from winding up in abusive marriages, Republicans stopped the bill in its tracks:
Republican lawmakers effectively killed the bill's chances during this legislative session when House Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Franklin, made a motion to send the proposal to summer study in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee.
Bills do not often come back to be passed after they are sent to summer study sessions.
Why was the bill sent away?
[Former state Sen. David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee] argued that passing Jernigan's bill could interfere with a lawsuit he is mounting to counter the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, legalizing gay marriage.
Fowler's legal theory is that the Supreme Court's ruling essentially nullified all Tennessee marriage licences, as it required legal marriage to be opened up beyond just a man and a women.
Therefore, according to Fowler, if the state were to move forward with this logic in a legal argument against the ruling, modifying state marriage law could acknowledge its existence.
Jernigan is hopeful that the bill will be taken up again next year.