Tennessee and Kentucky: Grappling With Ending Child Marriage (aka “Letting Rapists Marry Their Underage Victims” Laws)

On this International Women’s Day, let us remember that in too many places in the United States, kids under 18 are allowed to get married to adults. Sometimes there is an age limit. Sometimes it requires a parent’s approval. Sometimes it requires a judge. But, in almost every case, it’s an underage girl and a grown man. It’s sexual exploitation with the imprimatur of the government behind it. It’s beyond fucked up that anywhere in the world in 2018 this is an issue (and it is a huge issue in many other countries). But not only does this bullshit go on in the United States, elected officials will still defend it. However, a good bit of public shaming goes a long way, as Kentucky and Tennessee learned quite recently.

In Kentucky, last week, “a bill to make 18 the legal age for marriage in Kentucky…stalled in a Senate committee amid concerns about the rights of parents to allow children to wed at a younger age.” Right now, Kentucky law allows a judge to approve a marriage for anyone under 16, no matter what the age of the potential spouse is. According to state records, girls as young as 13 were married in the last few years. The bill wouldn’t allow any marriage under 17, and, in that case, a judge must be involved.

Social media got hold of the failure of the Senate committee to advance the bill, and, what do you know, all of a sudden it was back yesterday and it easily passed. Oh, sure, there were the usual bizarro fucknuts opposing it, like Republican Dan Seum, who stupidly said, “”I as a parent couldn’t let my pregnant 16-year-old daughter marry the guy that loves her, give the baby a name?” This led to the best smackdown by another Republican, Ralph Alvarado, who is a pediatrician: “I would argue they need more of a father than a husband at that age.” A bit patriarchal, sure, but it’s good to see evolution in action.

The bill was brought forward by Republican Senators Alice Forgy Kerr and Julie Raque Adams.  And, in testimony before the Kentucky Senate Judiciary Committee, former victim Donna Pollard told her story about the 29 year-old man who first statutorily raped when she was 14. By the time she was 16, she had married her rapist with permission from her mother, who herself had married at 13. Years later, Pollard got divorced and became a kickass advocate against child marriage.

Meanwhile, down south a bit, Tennessee just had its own mulligan moment on child marriage. Last month, a couple of Democrats in the state legislature discovered a loophole in Tennessee state law that lets a judge waive the minimum age of marriage so that anyone of any age can get hitched. One organization found 3 girls who got married to adult men at age 10. So Sen. Jeff Yarbro and Rep. Darren Jernigan did what anyone who is fully human would do and introduced legislation to close the loophole.

But guess what? Apparently, the leader of an organization ironically called the “Family Action Council” contacted the GOP House Majority Leader, Glen Casada, and said, “Whoa, whoa. Helping young girls will get in the way of us hurting the gays.” See, the “family” organization is suing to overturn the Supreme Court’s Obergfell decision that legalized same-sex marriage for some bullshit reasoning that it nullified all marriage licenses in Tennessee because something something Jesus something man/woman who the fuck knows. And if the legislature acknowledged that marriage licenses were valid by passing the anti-child marriage bill, it’d spoil their chances to show those queers what-for. So the bill was going to die in committee yesterday.

Then, all of a sudden, today, after media pressure, Casada realized that maybe it looks like Tennessee is a bunch of backwards ass country fucks if they didn’t close the loophole, and the bill is back for reconsideration and a hearing or two.

So, kicking and screaming, Kentucky and Tennessee are being brought into at least the late 20th century, if not all the way to the present. And the young girls of the state, especially in the rural areas where many of these awful marriages occur, may actually be allowed to grow up without thinking that they’re supposed to be victims of predatory men.

Now, how about you, Florida?

Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on March 8, 2018, on The Rude Pundit, a website featuring commentary by Lee Papa.  It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Papa.

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