Currently, and rightfully so, many on the right are advocating for the protection of children by standing against the state talking to young kids about sexuality behind their parents’ backs. Many on the left also support this cause as parents need to be involved in their young child’s decision — especially when it comes to making life altering decisions.
Highlighting the outliers in party politics, however, is a Republican representative in Tennessee who is pushing through a bill that would eliminate an age requirement for marriage, and in some instances, open the door for a coverup of child sex abuse.
Tom Leatherwood (R-Arlington) is sponsoring the bill, (HB 233) in what he calls, a move to add new marriage options for Tennesseans.
“So, 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,” Leatherwood said.
However, critics of the bill point out that it eliminates the age requirements for marriage — opening the door for child marriages — a factor that Leatherwood acknowledged during a Children and Family Affairs subcommittee.
“There is not an explicit age limit,” Leatherwood said.
Democratic Nashville Representative Mike Stewart, 57, called the bill 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,” he said. “I don’t think any normal person thinks we shouldn’t have an age requirement for marriage.”
Human rights lawyer Qasim Rashid tweeted: “Tennessee Republican Tom Leatherwood has passed HB 233 out of committee. Leatherwood acknowledged there’s no minimum age requirement on purpose. This is absolutely horrifying and unacceptable.”
According to UNICEF, Tennessee is currently the 13th largest state per capita for child marriages, trailing Texas, Alabama, Utah, Oklahoma, and Nevada. Texas has married roughly 42,000 children, the biggest number of children per state, while California has married off roughly 24,000 and Tennessee almost 10,000.
In the entire country, approximately 300,000 girls and boys — mostly girls — in the U.S. were married before reaching 18 years old between 2000-2018.
After the introduction of the bill, the Sexual Assault Center of Middle Tennessee released a statement to local media, decrying it.
“The Sexual Assault Center does not believe the age of consent for marriage should be any younger than it already is. It makes children more vulnerable to coercion and manipulation from predators, sexual and other,” the statement said.
Exactly why Leatherwood would intentionally omit the age requirement remains unclear. However, given the current climate in the United States with the controversy over the passage of HB 1557, inaccurately dubbed by many on the left as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida, one would think Republicans would be more careful in their messaging about protecting children.
However, as this case illustrates, one would be wrong. The Tennessee House of Representatives’ Civil Justice Committee heard the bill on Wednesday and it has already passed 6-3 in the state’s Senate committee hearing.
Disturbingly, child marriage is only explicitly outlawed in six states, Delaware, New Jersey, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and New York. And for years, there has been bipartisan resistance to outlawing it anywhere else.
TFTP has reported on cases in which lawmakers voted against a bill that would’ve banned the “legalized rape of children” via underage marriage.
In 2018, Julie Raque Adams, a Louisville Republican in Kentucky proposed SB 48, known as the “child bride” bill. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle struck it down.
“SO disappointed! My SB 48 (outlaw child marriage) won’t be called for a vote,” Adams said at the time. “It is disgusting that lobbying organizations would embrace kids marrying adults. We see evidence of parents who are addicted, abusive, neglectful pushing their children into predatory arms. Appalling.”
“This is legalized rape of children,” Eileen Recktenwald, the executive director of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs said.
As TFTP has previously reported, this problem is not isolated to Kentucky and Tennessee either. Laws across America have legalized pedophilia with children as young as 10-years-old and no one appears to be stopping it.
To wit, three 10-year-old girls and an 11-year-old boy were among the hundreds of thousands of children and minors the system somehow permitted adults to lock into marriage — despite their bodies and minds not yet being fully developed.