Common Law Marriage Bill Reaches Dead End In Legislative Session

Image Credit: / Nick Youngson / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –

A common law marriage bill that would allow only opposite-sex couples to fill out marriage “contracts” based on common law marriage principles has reached the end of the road in the current annual legislative session.

The contract would only apply to “one man and one woman” thereby excluding same-sex couples. Those in favor of the bill argued that it is a necessary measure that would give religious officials, couples and others opposed to gay marriage an alternative that wouldn’t conflict with their beliefs.

Common law marriage is legal in only eight states in the U.S. at this time; Tennessee hoped to be the ninth. In those states, couples who live together as married couples, without a state marriage license, are given the same legal protection as those who marry with a license.

Despite the legality of the practice in a minority of the states, common law marriage is not a new practice. It dates back to Colonial times when finding a preacher to officiate a marriage was not always easy.

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Those opposed to the bill said it would lead to expensive legal battles, claiming it was an attempt to get around the Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized gay marriage in 2015. 

Representative Tom Leatherwood moved the bill to summer study after a vote in a House committee on Wednesday. As the current legislative session is expected to end in the next few weeks, this effectively kills the bill for the time being.


The bill initially failed to include a minimum age requirement which quickly led to critics dubbing it the “child marriage bill.” The bill’s Republican sponsors added an amendment to incorporate an age requirement of 18 or older but denied that the bill in its original form would have resulted in a spate of child marriages.

Leatherwood told the committee, “There are still a lot of sincere concerns about this bill, as well as a lot of misinformation about this bill.”

Concerns have come both from Democrats and Republicans alike. Last week, Representative Johnny Garrett (R-Goodlettsville-District 45), an attorney, warned his colleagues that because the bill did not specifically prohibit individuals from entering into multiple contracts, that Tennessee could unwittingly be legalizing polygamy. He also said that couples would not be able to claim all benefits and be due all the same rights as legally married couples because the contract would not have to be filed with the state.

While Leatherwood amended the bill on Wednesday to make filing contracts a requirement, Garrett was still unconvinced of the soundness of the bill.

“I know I expressed some concerns last week,” he said. “Those concerns are still there.”

Republican Senate Speaker Randy McNally also told reporters last week that he wouldn’t support the proposed legislation due to “constitutional problems.”

About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at

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