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 — if the bride-to-be is pregnant.
"Some of the lawmakers just didn't believe this could happen," said Cline, who lives in Weston, Florida. "It was very frustrating."
They're believers now.
Lisa Lynnette Clark, 37, was charged last week in Gainesville with child molestation for allegedly 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.
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," Jerry Keen, majority leader in Georgia's legislature, said Tuesday.
The Gainesville Times quoted unidentified members of the boy's family as saying that Clark is pregnant with the boy's child and that they were married Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2005.
Most U.S. states require minors to get their parents' permission before they marry. And if a person is 16 or under, many states also require court approval.
Keen and other leaders in the Republican-controlled Georgia legislature stopped short of endorsing a change to the state's marital requirements.
Instead, Keen said, the state's Republican lawmakers will focus on passing stricter penalties for those convicted of child molestation.
Democratic lawmakers, who are now 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.
State lawmaker Karla Drenner said she plans to author a bill that would bar children under age 16 from marrying regardless of the circumstances.
As the only openly gay elected official in Georgia's state government, Drenner said the irony of the lax marriage standards for minors is not lost upon her — particularly a year after lawmakers passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
"We're protecting society from the perceived threat of homosexual marriage, which was already illegal," she said. "But yet if you're pregnant, you can get married — and it doesn't matter if you're 9 years old or 10 years old."
Clark's court-appointed lawyer sat down with her Wednesday to try to prepare her for the media frenzy that her case is attracting.
"I don't think anything can prepare her for what awaits once she is released," Sammons told the Gainesville Times. "I think it's already beyond (the frenzy of Jennifer Wilbanks, dubbed the 'runaway bride')."
Meanwhile, the family of the 15-year-old who married the 37-year-old Clark doesn't seem to be celebrating the couple's marital bliss. The boy's grandmother, Judy Hayles, said in a TV interview that her skin crawls when she thinks of Clark.
"I don't want to see her. I don't want to hear her. I don't even like to see her ugly mugshot on TV," Judy Hayles said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Hayles had filed a police report on Oct. 6 when she learned from a friend that Clark was pregnant. She said she knew her grandson was spending a lot of time with the woman, but she had no real objections until she found love letters and photos from Clark.
Hayles, who wants to get the marriage annulled, said Clark's attorney has said Clark intends to stay married to Hayles' grandson.
That will happen, the grandmother said, "when I'm laid out and candle lit."
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