Arkansas Governor Considers Special Session to Correct Law that Allows Any Age to Marry

Gov. Mike Beebe said Tuesday that if he called a special session to correct a law that mistakenly eliminated the minimum age to marry for minors, the session would probably not address other issues.

Beebe told reporters that he hoped to decide within the next week whether a session is needed to correct a law mistakenly passed that would allow anyone under the age of 18 to get married with parental consent.

"There's a whole lot of legal arguments, as you might imagine," Beebe said.

Beebe said issues such as immigration, an increase in the severance tax on natural gas and a trauma center are "not ripe" for a special session.

"One of the last things a governor wants to do is call a special session on a number of issues and not have it agreed to on the front end or else you end up with an open ended, long special session, which is not productive," Beebe said.

Beebe said if he did call a special session, it probably would not include other issues unless there were technical matters that needed to be corrected in a short period of time. Beebe said his office is looking at other states that do not have a minimum age to marry to see how they handle enforcement.

"One of the options would be to see what would happen if you did not have a special session in terms what the clerks would be doing," Beebe said.

"It becomes a question of whether the clerks have sufficient leeway to be able to deny that," Beebe said.

The marriage age law, which took effect July 31, was intended to establish 18 as the minimum age to marry but also allow pregnant teenagers to marry with parental consent. An extraneous "not" in the bill, however, allows anyone who is not pregnant to marry at any age if the parents allow it.

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 the Arkansas Legislative Council last week asked the commission to reverse the correction because lawmakers said the commission overstepped its bounds.

Before the marriage issue arose, some lawmakers had floated the possibility of a special session to consider immigration measures and Rep. Denny Sumpter, D-West Memphis, has said he wants Beebe to consider a special session to help fund a trauma care system.

Beebe has also challenged companies exploring Arkansas' rich natural gas fields to come up with support to raise the state's severance taxes before 2009 or face a voter-led initiative to raise the taxes. Beebe said such a tax hike would not be on the special session's agenda.

"It's not ripe yet for that in terms of having the votes," Beebe said. "It may be ripe for purposes of the issue, but you've still got to have the votes."