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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tying the "Not"

A poorly worded Arkansas law allows babies to get married, as CNN reports.

The Arkansas legislature passed a law intended to set the minimum age to marry in Arkansas at 18, with the exception being pregnant teens who have parental consent. But the operative paragraph of the law says:
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.

Because of that extraneous "not" anyone can legally tie the knot in Arkansas, even toddlers and infants. And why not? Probate law has long recognized the doctrine of the "Precocious Toddler," i.e. the legal fiction that even young children are capable of procreation. In any event, the governor declined to call a special session of the legislature to fix the problem; instead ordering a special "Code Revision" committee to fix it as a technical error.

No harm? It didn't take long before the "notty problem" ended up in litigation. The mother of a 17 year old woman who gave her daughter permission to marry sued local officials in Benton County when they refused to issue a marriage license. The court found that the Code Revision Committee had no business removing the "not" from the law -- only the legislature can make substantive changes to the law.

Governor Beebe's office says that it still does not have plans to call a special session -- but that "not" might be a mistake.