Bill restricting child marriages resurrected on Tennessee House floor

The Tennessee House of Representatives meets on the opening day of the legislative session Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE - A legislative effort to restrict child marriages in Tennessee got back on track Monday night after the state House voted without objection to suspend the rules and place the bill back on notice in a subcommittee that last week effectively voted to kill consideration for the year.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Nashville, later thanked Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Franklin, who successfully moved to resurrect the bill on the chamber floor.

"We'll be able to hear it," Jernigan said. "We'll have an amendment to the bill that the leader and I spoke about. I believe we've come to an agreement."

Jernigan's bill originally sought to ban marriages for anyone under the age of 18 with no exceptions. The lawmaker said he and Casada discussed language after legislation passed by Kentucky and just on Friday by Florida that bars marriage for anyone under the age of 17.

The lawmaker said the agreement calls for setting specific rules for judges to follow where they can "emancipate," that is grant legal adult status, to those who are 17 years old. That would answer one of the criticisms about the current situation in which minors have no legal status to defend themselves from an adult, abusive spouse.

"I think it would be 18 with 17 the exception," Jernigan said.

Casada said he made the motion last week to shuttle the bill off for summer study, thus effectively killing it for the year, at the behest of David Fowler, a former Signal Mountain senator who now heads the socially conservative Family Action Council of Tennessee.

Fowler said he feared tinkering with state marriage laws right now will hinder his pending state litigation he theorizes could ultimately force the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its landmark 2015 ruling allowing same-sex couples to marry.

But Casada later said he was "more than shocked" to hear of cases in Tennessee in which children as young as 13, 14 and 15 were marrying adults far older. Critics say it can often result in abusive relationships, especially with the teens not being legally emancipated from their status as minors.

The House also voted to direct the state to seek a Medicaid waiver lawmakers hope will let them deny any public money going to abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.

And the Senate had its first reading on a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would require Tennessee Supreme Court justices meet in public session to discuss and vote on state attorney general selections.

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.