In spring of this year, Tennessee legislators proposed a bill to create alternative legal pathways to marriage that left out an essential guideline—a minimum age requirement —prompting a major media uproar. The common law marriages created by the bill are also only accessible to heterosexual couples; however, the bill was primarily attacked for its allowance of child marriage rather than its homophobic intent. The legislators who drafted the bill tried to argue that an age limit would be assumed, but ultimately filed an amendment to the bill in response to the public outcry.
The significant public response to this legislation implies that many Americans oppose child marriage. But, in reality, Americans are mostly just uninformed about the practice: surveys have revealed that more than half of Americans believe that child marriage is already illegal throughout the United States. As of August of this year, only seven states had enacted legislation to ban child marriage. In fact, from 2000 to 2015, over 200,000 minors were legally married within the United States. Between 2000 and 2010, three or more states issued marriage licenses to 12-year-olds, and at least 14 states issued marriage licenses to 13-year-olds. Our federalist system and complex state laws have permitted these marriages while obscuring the policies from public view.
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