The New Hampshire House rejected a measure Thursday that would raise the minimum marriage age to 18. Current law allows girls to get married at 13 and boys at 14 if they have court and parental approval.
Republican lawmakers argued raising the minimum age would be detrimental to young military members and pregnant teenagers. David Bates, a Republican state representive, said he was concerned the measure did not include provisions for enlisting 17-year-olds who sought to extend military benefits to a spouse before deploying or pregnant teenagers. Bates contends that raising the minimum age to 18 across the board would result in more children being born out of wedlock.
"There are circumstances where I believe it is appropriate — again, with the consent of parents and guardians and with the approval of the court. I believe there are circumstances where a minor should be able to get married," Bates told WMUR.
The measure was inspired by a 17-year-old Girl Scout seeking to end minors getting married. Cassandra Levesque crafted the legislation as part of Girl Scout project and was at the State House to follow the debate. "I was shocked that we still have that law," Levesque told WBZ.
Domestic violence groups are outraged with lawmakers who rejected the bill, as New Hampshire has the second-youngest marriage age in the nation.
"It's hard to understand what special cause could exist to allow a child to enter into marriage," Jessica Eskeland of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence said. "This really seemed like a common sense measure to make sure children are protected and that they can't be coerced under the law by folks older than them."
The existing law has been on the books since 1907. According to officials, 784 minors have been married since 1989, that includes a 13-year-old bride in 2013.