In an effort to push an anti-LGBTQ+ agenda as far as they can manage to, Republicans have taken a renewed liking to the words “grooming” and “predatory” in recent months. Conservatives at all levels of government have been pushing anti-trans legislation, especially when it comes to sports and gender-affirming health care, but have more recently branched into traditional homophobic rhetoric; for example, the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law in Florida, and the comparable one being considered in Texas.
Whether conservatives are fueling false hysteria about trans women using the women’s bathroom, youth having books by and about LGBTQ+ people, or teachers simply talking about queer identities and history in the classroom, though, it comes down to one core idea: Stop it. Republicans absolutely want to eliminate queer identities as much as they can, and that includes bolstering hate against openly LGBTQ+ people and allies by going backward in time to suggest LGBTQ+ adults (and allies) are essentially predators who are “grooming” young people and trying to “turn” them LGBTQ+.
Obviously, this is rooted in queerphobia and completely indefensible. Republicans as a party, though, offer up an incredible sense of surreal hypocrisy when we consider a recent bill coming out of Tennessee that seeks to do two terrible things. First, it wants to establish common-law marriage as only between one man and one woman, and second, it wants to repeal a recent law that bans marriages for children under 17. And they want to accuse queer people of being groomers??
RELATED STORY: Openly gay teacher with decades of experience fired after giving Pride bracelets to high schoolers
House Bill 233 would define common-law marriages as between “one man” and “one woman” without a minimum age requirement, as covered at Salon. Right now, minors can get married in Tennessee at the age of 17, provided they have parental consent.
For background, the federal government actually does not have a minimum age for marriage. Weird? Yes. States are allowed to set their own guidelines, which, disturbingly, results in an estimated 300,000 child marriages happening in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018, according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF.)
If your first thought is, well, that sounds like a cover-up for child abuse and child sexual abuse—you’re probably right! While sexual violence can happen to anyone, it feels like these situations are especially ripe for minors who may be raised in particularly oppressive, isolated environments, like those who are forced to be in what are essentially religious cults, youth who are homeschooled, or adolescents who otherwise are separated from “normal” daily life and resources.
Thinking about people in positions of power who could use legal loopholes like these to coerce, manipulate, and abuse children of all genders is truly horrifying. It’s also important to look at this as an intergenerational issue; children forced into marriage, for example, might be trapped in cycles of dependency, poverty, lack of education, or lack of employment opportunities, trapping them in abusive or unsafe environments. In addition to mental health struggles, new children could be brought into this cycle, and perhaps even be forced into continuing it.
Democratic Rep. Mike Stewart brought up child abuse when the bill was on the table in the subcommittee, according to local outlet WKRN, describing the bill as “basically a get out of jail free card” for people who are essentially committing statutory rape.
Republican Rep. Tom Leatherwood, who sponsors the bill, described it as providing an “alternative form of marriage” for pastors and those who have a “conscientious objection” to the “current pathways” to marriage in the law, according to the outlet.
And Leatherwood’s framing is where we can tie LGBTQ+ rights and queerphobia in here on another level. So same-sex marriage is so abhorrent to conservatives that they want to establish their own separate marriage path … which includes being able to marry children.
But we’re the groomers? Got it.
If you want to fully lean into the ick, you can catch a campaign video from Leatherwood from a couple of years ago, where he’s described as having an “A” rating with the NRA and having the ability to stand strong on the Constitution and “conservative Christian principles” in D.C.
I’d say that I wonder which “conservative Christian principles” include child marriage here, but it’s safe to say we already know.
Sign the petition: Demand the Senate pass the Equality Act and protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination.