LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Arkansas' marriage-age crisis is over. A law that mistakenly allowed anyone — even toddlers — to marry with parental permission was repealed by a measure signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Mike Beebe, ending months of embarrassment for the state and confusion for county clerks.
Lawmakers didn't realize until after the end of last year's regular session that a law they approved, intended to establish 18 as the minimum age for marriage, instead removed the minimum age to marry entirely. An extraneous "not" in the bill allowed anyone who was not pregnant to marry at any age with permission.
The bill read: "In order for a person who is younger than eighteen (18) years of age and who is not pregnant to obtain a marriage license, the person must provide the county clerk with evidence of parental consent to the marriage."
Some lawmakers called for a special session last year, saying the error would make it easy for pedophiles to take advantage of the law. Gov. Mike Beebe said he didn't see any imminent crisis and said the chances of children marrying under the law were slim.
Legislators, however, had the chance for a do-over this week when Beebe convened a special session to consider a hike in the state's severance tax on natural gas. They repealed the botched law, and reinstated 17 as the minimum age to marry for boys and 16 for girls.
Rep. Will Bond, the sponsor of the botched 2007 law and its correction, apologized for the error and asked his colleagues to "throw me a rope and bail me out here."
"I always thought if you put your name on a bill, you should be ready to take the blame if you're willing to accept the credit," Bond said Wednesday.
Bond, a Democrat, said there hadn't been any reports of young children attempting to marry under the 2007 law.