Tennessee bill to ban child marriages stalled due to lawsuit challenging gay marriage

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Tennessee bill to ban child marriage is stalled because of a lawsuit that challenges gay marriage, the bill's sponsor says.

House Bill 1785 would outlaw Tennessee marriages where someone is less than 18 years old. It’s designed to stop teens and young children from marrying adults.

Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory, is sponsoring the bill. He says marriages like that are more likely to be forced and abusive.

"Under 18, they cannot get a contract for a lawyer to file for a divorce, cannot get an order of protection," Jernigan said over the phone.

In Tennessee a 16- or 17-year-old can get a marriage license with parental consent anyone younger simply needs a judge to sign off.

"You effectively ruin their childhood," Jernigan said.

The commission on missing and exploited children says kids nationwide have married adults 200,000 times in the last 15 years.

That includes three cases in Tennessee where 10-year-old girls got married to men 24 and older.

The bill, for now, is in limbo after House Republicans kicked it out of committee this week.

They did so because of attorney David Fowler who, according to Jernigan, says the bill would interfere with his lawsuit against the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the court’s 2015 decision to legalize gay marriage.

Fowler is president of the Family Action Council Of Tennessee.

"I told him all you did today was allow a 13-year-old boy be available to marry a 30-year-old man," Jernigan said.

After public backlash, Jernigan says the bill will likely return to committee in a couple weeks but there’s no guarantee it will pass.

We asked the Family Action Council if they had any comment but a spokeswoman said he did not at this time.