- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005

ATLANTA (AP) — Ever since her 13-year-old niece wed a 14-year-old boy last year, Sharon Cline has sent lawmakers a slew of letters begging them to change a Georgia law that allows children of any age to marry — without parental consent — as long as the bride-to-be is pregnant.

“Some of the lawmakers just didn’t believe this could happen,” said Mrs. Cline, who lives in Weston, Fla. “It was very frustrating.”

They’re believers now.

Lisa Lynnette Clark, 37, was charged last week in Gainesville with child molestation, accused of having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old friend of her teenage son. Just days before her arrest, she wed the boy under a Georgia law that allows pregnant couples to marry regardless of age and without consent of a minor’s parents or guardians.

Disturbed by the child groom, Georgia lawmakers may soon debate changing a law that many didn’t know even existed. Geared toward preventing out-of-wedlock births, the law dates back to at least the early 1960s.

“I never knew it was in the code until this morning,” state Rep. Jerry Keen, leader of the legislature’s Republican majority, said Tuesday. “Our legislative counsel — the lawyers who draft the laws — even had to look it up.”

Most states require minors to get their parents’ permission before they marry. And if a person is 16 or under, many states require approval from parents and the court. But some states allow minors to marry without parental consent in the event of a pregnancy or birth of a child, although the couple may have to get permission from a court.

Still, Mr. Keen and other leaders in the Republican-controlled Georgia General Assembly stopped short of endorsing a change to the state’s marital requirements.

“It’s very difficult to govern by exception. You have to govern by rule,” Mr. Keen said.

Instead, Mr. Keen and Senate Majority Leader Tommie Williams said the state’s lawmakers will focus on passing stricter penalties for those convicted of child molestation. Mr. Keen said the legislation would require convicts to spend at least 25 years in prison and wear an electronic tracking device within the state’s borders after their release.

Democratic lawmakers, recently in the minority after more than a century in power, may hope a proposal to change the marriage standards will drive a wedge in the Republican majority.

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