Ban on child marriage in New Hampshire moves to next step, representing years-long battle

Ban on child marriage in New Hampshire moves to next step, representing years-long battle

New Hampshire House Passes Bill to Ban Child Marriage

New Hampshire House Passes Bill to Ban Child Marriage

Sponsored by Sen. Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham, the bill would raise the minimum age of marriage to 18. It passed the Senate unanimously in March and the House 192-174 on Thursday.

It would be the second time the age of marriage has been raised in the past six years. In 2018, Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill to raise the minimum age of marriage to 16. For over 100 years before that, the law had allowed 13-year-old girls and 14-year-old boys to get married with parent and court approval.

Rep. Cassandra Levesque, D-Barrington, was still a senior at Dover High School and a Girl Scout when she championed the bill in 2018. Now, she is one of the seven co-sponsors of the legislation and spoke in favor of the bill on the House floor.

“For the past ten years, I have researched child marriage,” Levesque said. “Through my research, I’ve learned about the devastating effects of child marriage.”

Those effects, she continued, include human trafficking, domestic violence, worse economic health outcomes, and abuse. They also suffer academically: she said that girls who marry before 18 are 50% more likely than their unmarried peers to drop out of high school and four times less likely to graduate from college.

The 2018 bill originally intended to set the marriage at 18, but lawmakers compromised for age 16. Since then, Levesque and others have tried and failed to raise the age to 18 in at least four legislative sessions.

During the session, two amendments were proposed to allow exceptions for those under 18 to marry if they’ve been legally emancipated.

Rep. Margaret Drye, R-Plainfield, said she opposes the bill without exceptions.

“Exceptions can be life-changing in a good way,” said Drye. “I also realize that young people need some support. Sometimes, it’s given by their family. Sometimes, it’s given by marriage. Sometimes, it’s given by both. I think that they need to have those options open when they make a life-changing decision.”

Rep. Tony Lekas, R-Hudson, said he married at 16 and did not need any “outside input.”

Ultimately, both amendments were defeated, and the legislation was passed without change.

“Child marriage under any circumstance is not in the best interest of the child,” Levesque said. “Just because something has been done for centuries does not mean we are the same society. We grow, we adapt, we change, we evolve as a society, and so do our laws.”

Having passed the House and Senate, the legislation is en route to Sununu’s desk. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but he strongly supported the legislation in 2018.

Editor’s note: State Sen. Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham, is the wife of Howard Altschiller, Seacoast Media Group’s executive editor.

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