BY LAURA KELLAMS
Posted on Saturday, September 15, 2007
Benton County Clerk Mary Lou Slinkard was following the law as required when she denied a 17-year-old girl a marriage license last month, the county’s attorney asserted in court documents filed Friday.
Robin Green, representing Slinkard in her official capacity, was responding to a lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of the girl and her 18-year-old fiance. The lawsuit claims that the girl, Lisa Marie Stansell, should be allowed to marry before her 18 th birthday, even though she’s not pregnant as a law passed by the Legislature this year would require.
The legislation was intended to prohibit marriage for anyone under age 18 except pregnant girls who have parental consent. But it contained an errant “not” that stipulated that any minor can marry with parental permission, regardless of whether there’s a pregnancy.
Stansell’s attorney, former state Rep. Tim Hutchinson of Lowell, said the law as passed by the Legislature allows his client to marry because she has her parents’ permission.
Green said in response that Slinkard was following the law as codified by the Arkansas Code Revision Commission, which took out the “not” and changed the meaning to what the legislative sponsors said they intended.
The lawsuit claims that the commission didn’t have the authority to make that change and that the version passed by the Legislature should be the law in Arkansas.
In response to the lawsuit, Green said Slinkard agreed that the commission exceeded its authority and that the code version is invalid. But she also said Slinkard is still obligated to follow the law as codified until a court tells her otherwise.
The court filing stated that Slinkard “prays that this honorable court resolve this discrepancy between the act as passed by the Legislature and its codification so that she may lawfully perform her duties” to issue marriage licenses.
Slinkard isn’t the only county clerk hoping for some guidance. Several have said they’re confused about what to do when people younger than 18 approach them for a marriage license.
The Legislature doesn’t convene in regular session again until 2009. Gov. Mike Beebe has declined to call lawmakers into special session to clear up the marriage law.
Beebe has said there’s no imminent crisis and that the commission had the authority to make the change it made.