State House Republicans in Tennessee on Wednesday effectively killed a bill to ban child marriages in an effort to bolster a conservative lawyer’s case against the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.
The bill called for the state to ban marriages where one of the parties is under 18 years old.
House Majority Leader Glen Casada (R) was convinced to send the bill to summer study in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee after an email from attorney David Fowler, a former state senator, The Tennessean reported on Wednesday.
Summer study is a place where bills often die before they return for debate, effectively killing the bill’s chances to be passed.
Fowler’s email said he is preparing a lawsuit to counter the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in the 2015 case of Obergefell v. Hodges.
Fowler is arguing that the Supreme Court’s ruling essentially nullified all Tennessee marriage licenses when it opened the spectrum of legal marriage beyond just between a man and a woman, The Tennessean reported.
If Tennessee were to ban child marriages by modifying state marriage law, lawmakers would be acknowledging the existence of same-sex marriage, according to Fowler’s legal theory.
Rep. Darren Jernigan (D), a co-sponsor of the bill, found a state loophole in February that gave a judge the ability to grant marriages to minors with no minimum age limit, The Tennessean reported.
In 2016, 42 men and 166 women under the age of 18 were married in the state, The Tennessean reported.
Nonprofit group Unchained at Last says it has found at least three marriages in Tennessee involving a child as young as 10 years old, but state officials have disputed that claim.
Jernigan and other supporters of the bill say the loophole led to female minors being married to significantly older men, where they face higher chances of being abused.
Fowler is the president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, a Christian-based advocacy group against same-sax marriage.
Jernigan said it was disgraceful that Casada was citing Fowler’s theory to fight same-sex marriage as the reason to block the child marriage ban.
“Basically, what has happened is the Family Action Council wants to continue to let 13-year-olds get married in the state at the sake of their court case against same-sex couples,” Jernigan said. “It’s disgraceful. I’m embarrassed for the State of Tennessee, and I can only pray that we bring this back next year and not let them get in the way.”