Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Special session is not needed

The flap over legalizing kiddie marriages is a quintessential Arkansas legislature story — Ledge screws up again! — but we think it is overblown and no cause for panic. It certainly seems needless to summon the legislature into urgent special session to fix it, as Gov. Beebe wisely concluded Monday.

In their resolve to fix a curious little constitutional infirmity, a few judges had suggested changing the law on the minimum age for marriage in Arkansas. Without parental consent it was 16 for women but 17 for men.

Why not raise it to 18 and make it uniform for both, thereby preventing a challenge based on sexual discrimination? They added a proviso that a pregnant woman could get a waiver if she was under 18 and her parents consented. Our own Rep. Will Bond took the judges’ bill and introduced it, the legislature passed it, and Gov. Beebe signed it into law.

Then it was discovered that an extra “not” got into the language, which on close reading meant that any girl could get married at any age regardless of whether she was pregnant as long as she had a parent’s consent. The discovery raised images of parents marrying off their toddlers to pedophiles. A few legislators thought the governor should assemble the legislature to prevent such atrocities.

It is much ado about very little. The legislature’s intent, if not its language, was clear and the code writers took cognizance of it. County clerks, who issue marriage licenses, can refuse licenses or notify the child-welfare people if people do try to marry off their children before the legislature assembles again and corrects it.

Someone wanting to marry off a child would have to sue to enforce the letter of the law and that won’t happen. Three states now have no minimum marriage age; they provide for voiding them afterward.

There will be far more serious problems that will need the legislature’s attention before long — there already are — and this little canker can be fixed then.

Waiting will save a sizable amount of money that must be spent to run the legislative show for even the minimum three days.