Tennessee Marriage Bill Called 'Horrifying' as Law Could See Children Wed

Critics have slammed a proposed new law in Tennessee that would eliminate age requirements for marriage in the state, claiming the bill would potentially allow children to get married.

Social media users harshly criticized the bill, HB 233, which is being sponsored by Republican state Representative Tom Leatherwood. The bill has passed the Tennessee House's Children and Family Affairs subcommittee and is due before the House Civil Justice Committee on Wednesday.

Human rights lawyer Qasim Rashid tweeted: "Tennessee Republican Tom Leatherwood has passed HB 233 out of committee. Leatherwood acknowledged there's no minimum age requirement on purpose. This is absolutely horrifying and unacceptable."

The current minimum age for marrying in Tennessee is 17 and Leatherwood, who has acknowledged that the new bill doesn't contain an age limit, defended the proposal by making reference to religious beliefs.

Alternative Form of Marriage

"So, all this bill does is give an alternative form of marriage for those pastors and other individuals who have a conscientious objection to the current pathway to marriage in our law," Leatherwood said in remarks quoted by WKRN.

Democratic state Representative Mike Stewart, who is on the subcommittee, said the bill could be "a get out of jail free card for people who are basically committing statutory rape."

Tennessee State Representative Gloria Johnson, a Democrat, took to Twitter on Tuesday and highlighted her appearance on Michelangelo Signorile's SiriusXM radio show.

"Just did the @MSignorile show talking about HB233 and our backward GOP, in their anti-marriage equality zeal, they passed a bill in subcommittee for kiddie marriage. #whosgroomingwho," Johnson wrote.

MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid tweeted: "Your daily reminder that Tennessee Republicans are opening the door to adults marrying children."

"And not one, ranty Q-anon congressperson will even mildly object. Just like they have no quarrel with Trump, Jordan, Gaetz or Roy Moore. Because protecting children is not their goal," Reid said.

Rachel Vindman, perhaps best known as the wife of whistleblower Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, shared a tweet from Senator Josh Hawley about a bill that would impose tougher sentences for pedophiles.

"A Republican in Tennessee proposed a bill for an 'alternative form of marriage' which would allow girls under 17 to marry," Vindman said. "Tell me more about your party's anti-pedophilia initiatives."

Former federal prosecutor Shanlon Wu wrote: "Eliminating age of consent cannot possibly serve any legitimate purpose - Tennessee would be a haven for child sexual abuse."

Jon Cooper, former Long Island chair for former President Barack Obama's presidential campaign, tweeted: "Can someone tell me why Tennessee Republicans want to make it legal for an adult man to marry a child?"

Several Republicans have recently focused on the issues of pedophilia and child grooming, with some GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee questioning Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson's record on child pornography sentences.

Newsweek has asked state Representative Tom Leatherwood for comment.

A Couple Marries on the U.S-Mexico Border
Rogelio gives Miriam her wedding ring as they get married through the border wall between Mexico and the United States, during the "Keep our dream alive" event, in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico on December 10, 2017. A Tennessee bill would eliminate the minimum age requirement for marriages in the state. HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images