Tenn. Religious Right Group Sinks Child Marriage Law Because It’s Worried It Will Get In The Way Of A Marriage-Equality Lawsuit

Arguments at the United States Supreme Court for Same-Sex Marriage on April 28, 2015 (Flickr/Ted Eytan)

The Tennessean reported yesterday that Republican state lawmakers have effectively killed a bill aimed at stopping child marriages at the request of the head of a state Religious Right group who was worried the bill would get in the way of his lawsuit attempting to stop same-sex marriages in the state.

The paper explains how David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee intervened to stop a bill that would have outlawed marriages involving people under 18 years of age:

…Republican lawmakers effectively killed the bill’s chances during this legislative session when House Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Franklin, made a motion to send the proposal to summer study in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee.

Bills do not often come back to be passed after they are sent to summer study sessions.

Casada cited an email he received from attorney and former state Sen. David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee.

Fowler argued that passing [Rep. Darren] Jernigan’s bill could interfere with a lawsuit he is mounting to counter the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, legalizing gay marriage.

Fowler’s legal theory is that the Supreme Court’s ruling essentially nullified all Tennessee marriage licences, as it required legal marriage to be opened up beyond just a man and a women.

Therefore, according to Fowler, if the state were to move forward with this logic in a legal argument against the ruling, modifying state marriage law could acknowledge its existence.

Jernigan questioned Fowler as to why this should affect his legislation, and Fowler responded, “Some people think the state should regulate marriage, and I do not.”

The Family Action Council (FACT) is a state affiliate of the Family Research Council and of the Family Policy Alliance, the political arm of Focus on the Family. FACT says it is also allied with Alliance Defending Freedom.

Fowler filed his lawsuit in 2016, claiming that the Obergefell marriage equality decision invalidated the state’s entire marriage statue and so nobody should get civil marriage licenses until his suit is resolved, with the goal of eventually overturning of Obergefell.

A bill limiting child marriage in Kentucky was advanced this week after initial opposition from that state’s FRC affiliate, the Kentucky Family Foundation, which objected to a provision that it said cut parents out of court decisions about some teenage marriages. The group supported the bill after it was amended to address its concerns.