Mother Files Lawsuit Over Arkansas Marriage Law to Get Daughter Wed

A woman who has given her 17-year-old daughter permission to marry says state law on the subject should be what legislators voted to approve, not what they intended to approve, and she's filed suit to get her daughter a marriage license.

The difference involves the word "not," which lawmakers say was inserted inadvertently in a bill approved by the Legislature this year that was intended to raise the marriage age to 18 for young women, while allowing pregnant teenage girls younger than 18 to get married with a parent's permission.

The word "not" went in between the words "is" and "pregnant," creating the phrase "is not pregnant" instead of the intended "is pregnant."

The suit, filed in Benton County Circuit Court by lawyer Tim Hutchinson, a former Republican state representative representing the girl's mother, claims a legislative code revision commission overstepped its boundaries when eliminating the "not" from the new law passed this year. That "not" appears to allow anyone under 18 who is not pregnant to marry with parental consent.

But Gov. Mike Beebe said Friday the word "not" was clearly a typographical error.

"Nobody wants the code revision commission substantively acting as the Legislature," Beebe said on his monthly radio show on the Arkansas Radio Network. "That's the prerogative of the Legislature. The question here is whether or not this was within the purview or the authority of the code revision commission to be able to do this. And ultimately, going to the courts can tell for sure one way or another."

Hutchinson said his northwest Arkansas client's 17-year-old daughter, Lisa Marie Stansell, is engaged to an 18-year-old she met in high school. The lawsuit says the girl, who is not pregnant, tried to get a marriage license Aug. 3, but was turned away by the Benton County clerk's office.

"I don't think you can call it extraneous. It's pretty significant," Hutchinson said of the revision. "It's only one word, but it's a pretty significant word."

The suit seeks a marriage license for the teenagers, as well as court costs and fees.

In Boone County, deputy clerk Lynda Treat said a 17-year-old pregnant girl there received a marriage license after showing proof of parental permission. Treat said she followed the law, as amended by the code revision commission, when issuing the license.

Carroll County Clerk Shirley Doss said she and many others who recently attended a meeting of the state's county clerks decided to keep enforcing the old law until the matter can be determined. That law allows girls at least 16 and boys at least 17 to marry with parental consent. Younger marriages require a court order.

This year's bill, introduced by Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, was intended to establish 18 as the minimum age to marry and allow pregnant teenagers to marry with parental consent. However, Bond said the legislation got "screwed up" during its drafting.

The revision commission typically fixes typographical errors in laws. Legislators in August said the commission went beyond its powers and changed the substance of the bill by correcting the error. Some called for a special legislative session to fix the error, expressing worries that pedophiles might try to exploit the law.