Social Media Posts Misrepresent Tennessee Bill Allowing Common Law Marriage

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Quick Take

A Tennessee bill is aimed at excluding same-sex couples from proposed common law marriage contracts. Social media posts misleadingly claim the bill would allow child marriage and “legalize pedophilia.” The bill initially omitted a minimum age, but was amended on April 6 to say individuals must be at least 18 years old.


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Republican Rep. Tom Leatherwood introduced House Bill 233 to a Tennessee House subcommittee in early March. The bill would allow a man and a woman to file marriage “contracts” based on common law principles that are not yet legally recognized in Tennessee. Same-sex couples would not be eligible for the contracts. 

The bill sparked a backlash in the state and around the nation because it did not include an age requirement for those seeking such a marriage contract.

The sponsors amended the bill on April 6 to say that contract applicants — which it specifies as “one man” and “one woman” — must have “attained the age of majority,” which is 18 years old in Tennessee.

But social media posts continue to misrepresent the bill, claiming that it lacks an age minimum and was intended to facilitate child-marriages.

A Facebook post on April 7 from the liberal advocacy group Occupy Democrats misleadingly claims, “Tennessee Republicans are advancing a ‘marry little kids’ bill that will allow them to marry children of any age. Why is the Republican Party trying to legalize pedophilia?” The post has amassed over 3,600 reactions.

The post attributes its claim to a March 29 story by the Tennessee news station WJHL. However, the day before the Occupy Democrats’ post, WJHL reported,Common-law marriage bill amended to add age requirement while still being considered.”

A similar misleading claim was posted on Facebook on April 6 by a page run by Left Action that is called Trump Sucks.

But as we said, the omission of an age minimum was rectified on the same day this Facebook page posted about it. 

“Altering or addressing age in marriage was never the intent of this bill. … It’s a better bill by putting [the age minimum] in there,” Leatherwood said, according to the Tennessean.

According to WUSA 9, the bill is scheduled to be heard by the Tennessee House Civil Justice Committee on April 13.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.  

Sources

Tennessee General Assembly. House Bill 233. March 2022.

Tennessee General Assembly. Amendment to House Bill 233. 6 Apr 2022.

Peterson, Joyce. “Proposed legislation could legalize child marriage in Tennessee.” WMC. Action News 5. 5 Apr 2022.

Brown, Melissa. “Tennessee legislator files amendment to anti-LGBT marriage bill amid age limit backlash.” Tennessean. 6 Apr 2022.

Harris, Gerald. “Common-law marriage bill amended to add age requirement while still being considered.” WJHL. 6 Apr 2022.

Jones, Erin and Ariane Datil. “Fact-checking claims about Tennessee proposed marriage bill and child age.” Government Verify. 7 Apr 2022.

 

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