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Tennessee lawmakers revive child marriage ban proposal

Image: MGN/Pixabay

A Republican-led Tennessee House panel has revived legislation to ban child marriage.

A House subcommittee advanced the bill Wednesday after amending it to let 17-year-olds continue to marry, but only with judicial approval, parental permission, proof of maturity and high school completion, and other requirements.

The subcommittee resurrected the bill after killing it last week. A socially conservative lobbyist argued the bill would interfere with his state legal challenge of same-sex marriage.

The original bill by Democratic Rep. Darren Jernigan would've limited marriage to those 18 and older.

The Senate sponsor, Democratic Caucus Leader Jeff Yarbro, says parental consent is enough for 16 and 17-year-olds to marry now, while younger children need approval of a county judge or elected official. He says it's often an adult marrying someone under 18.

On Thursday, we spoke with Emily O'Donnell, Executive Director of the Women's Fund of Greater Chattanooga.

O'Donnell advocates for women and girls, and believes the bill introduced by Rep. Jernigan will improve life for both.

8,000 Tennessee children were married between 2000 and 2014.

"That's 8,000 kids that will deal with those marriages for the rest of their lives," says O'Donnell.

Research shows the consequences are significant - O'Donnell told us girls married before age 18 are three times more likely to be beaten by their husbands.

"Child marriage is responsible for higher rates of death resulting from child birth, unwanted pregnancy and malnutrition of babies," says O'Donnell.

Right now in Tennessee, you're allowed to marry at age 16, but waivers and loopholes allow children younger than that to marry.

Representative Jernigan's bill raises the minimum age to 18 with only one exception.

"It allows for 17-year-olds to be married with the consent of a parent, a guardian, or a judge," says Jernigan.

O'Donnell says she believes this bill will pass but in the event it doesn't, she's prepared to go back to the drawing table.

According to the non-profit group Unchained at Last, Tennessee has the 10th highest number of children married as a percentage of the state population.

In Georgia the minimum age to get married is 16 years old. Teens would have to get consent from both sets of parents.

The parents would then appear before a judge or provide a sworn affidavit giving permission.

You must be 18 to get married without parental consent.

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