A lawsuit will be filed tomorrow in Benton County over the state's new marriage statute, edited by the state Code Revision Commission to make it clear that it prevents marriage by those younger than 18, except in cases of pregnancy when parents consent.
Former legislator Timothy Hutchinson of Rogers said he'll file the suit on behalf of a 17-year-old woman, a high school graduate, who wants to marry an 18-year-old. Both are employed. She is not pregnant. Hutchinson says the parents approve.
As passed, the law effectively allowed persons of any age to marry, so long as they were not pregnant. That was not the intent. The intent was to set an 18-year-old floor for marriage, except in the case of pregnancy.
Hutchinson's client will turn 18 at the end of December. Why not wait? "They're in love," said Hutchinson.
He said he's just doing his client's bidding. But he also makes it clear that he thinks the Code Revision Commission has overstepped its authority, not for the first time, in cleaning up legislative work. He'll sue the county clerk in Benton County, who has already denied the young woman's request for a marriage license. He won't seek to have the statute declared unconstitutional, but ask for a declaratory judgment that the law is as the legislature passed it and that the clerk should be ordered to issue the license.
There's no word yet if the state will intervene and, in the event of an adverse ruling in the lower court, seek an appeal to uphold the Code Revision Commission's version of the statute. Hutchinson said he has urged the attorney general to intervene. He said he hoped that, if the state intervenes, it won't claim mootness, on account of the woman's 18th birthday occurring before the appeal can be decided. He wants to get a definitive ruling on the code editing.“As a former legislator, it kind of bothered me that the Code Revision Commission took this on itself. Clearly they don’t have the authority to do that. Even if it was well-intentioned, it sets a bad precedent.” Hutchinson added that the legislation was flawed because it “set up a class where young pregnant girls can get married. It almost encourages young people to get pregnant if they want to get married under 18.” Hutchinson said he doubted there was great danger that the law could be abused, even if he is successful. “The goal here is not to open the door to pedophiles to come to Arkansas to start buying child brides.” But he said, the governor should keep a “close eye” on the situation. If he wins, he said, the only realistic solution is a special session to correct the statute.