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NH House votes to raise marriage age from 13 to 16

State House Bureau

March 07. 2018 12:00AM
Cassandra Levesque, now in the second year of her campaign to end child marriage in New Hampshire, testifies before the House Children and Family Law Committee in January. (Dave Solomon/Union Leader)

CONCORD — The state House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to raise the marriage age in New Hampshire from 13 to 16, with judicial approval required until age 18.

The voice vote on House Bill 1587 came without any debate, in stark contrast to the fate of a similar bill last year that sought to raise the legal age to 18.

Current law sets the age for marriage with judicial approval at 13 for females, 14 for males and 18 for individuals in same-sex marriages.

Under HB 1587, anyone who is 16 or 17 could still marry with judicial approval, including those seeking a same-sex marriage.

Supporters of the bill feared that a late amendment adding same-sex marriages to the new age limits would be a “poison pill” for the legislation, but those fears were unfounded, at least in the House.

Gov. Chris Sununu commended the House vote, and urged the state Senate to follow suit.

“Virtually everyone agrees that the marriage of a 13-year-old child is unconscionable,” he said. “I commend the House of Representatives for passing HB 1587 — which will take action to prevent child marriage — and call on the Senate to get this critical piece of legislation to my desk.”

Cassandra Levesque, the Dover teenager who launched the battle to raise the marriage age, watched from the gallery as the bill passed, and expressed her hope that it would pass in the Senate as well.

“To allow children ages 13, 14 or 15 to marry is just inconceivable,” Levesque said at the hearing on the bill. “Allowing that to happen takes away their future, and I know in my heart that is not something that anyone here wants to happen.”

A state law dating back to 1907 allows girls as young as 13 and boys as young as 14 to marry, with permission of a parent or guardian and approval by the family court.

Opponents of efforts to change the law last year said young service members should have the right to marry their teenage sweethearts before deployment, so they are not deprived of family benefits. Others voiced concerns about girls who conceive out of wedlock and whose parents support the girls’ marriage to whomever the fathers are.

By proposing a minimum legal marriage age of 16 as opposed to 18, supporters of HB 1587 eliminated the concern regarding military members.

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Thank you, Sununu