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Mistake in Arkansas Law Allows Any Age to Marry if Parents Agree

A law passed this year allows Arkansans of any age -- even infants -- to marry if their parents agree, and the governor may have to call a special session to fix the mistake, lawmakers said Friday.

The legislation was intended to establish 18 as the minimum age to marry but also allow pregnant teenagers to marry with parental consent, bill sponsor Rep. Will Bond said. An extraneous "not" in the bill, however, allows anyone who is not pregnant to marry at any age if the parents allow it.

"It's clearly not the intent to allow 10-year-olds or 11-year-olds to get married," Bond said. "The legislation was screwed up."

The bill reads: "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."

A code revision commission -- which fixes typographical and technical errors in laws -- had tried to correct the mistake, but a group of legislators said Friday the commission went beyond its powers.

"You're either pregnant or you're not pregnant," Sen. Dave Bisbee said. "Rarely will that be a typographical error."

The Arkansas Legislative Council asked the independent commission to reverse its correction. Several lawmakers said a special session may be necessary.

"We need a special session to fix this," Sen. Sue Madison said. "I am concerned about pedophiles coming to Arkansas to find parents who are willing to sign a very young child's consent."

Before the new law took effect July 31, girls could get married with parental consent at 16 and boys at 17.

The Legislature formally adjourned its session in May and is not scheduled to meet again until January 2009, unless Gov. Mike Beebe calls a special session.