CONCORD, N.H. — Senator Debra Altschiller has introduced a bill to ban child marriage in New Hampshire.
Wait, didn’t we already do that?
No, not really. Here’s a quick refresher.
Back in 2018, Governor Chris Sununu signed a bill to raise the state’s minimum marriage age to 16, up from 13 for girls and 14 for boys. That came after the widely recognized lobbying of Cassandra N. Levesque, who was then a teenage Girl Scout.
But the final bill was a compromise. Levesque and her allies took the win and kept pushing for a blanket ban on any marriages before age 18. They tried in at least four separate legislative sessions to get a bill passed. Each time, their efforts faltered.
When a majority of the House Children and Family Law Committee advised fellow lawmakers to reject the 2023 version of the bill, they said the number of child marriages in New Hampshire is now “very minimal,” and the process for minors to get the state’s marital go-ahead is a “significant process” that requires parental consent and judicial review.
Nonetheless, those pushing to end child marriage altogether are trying again. Levesque, now a state representative herself, is among seven Democrats cosponsoring Senate Bill 359, Altschiller’s bicameral proposal.
“We are failing our children,” Levesque told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. “We as legislators should not be taking the stance that it is in some instances OK to violate a child’s human rights.”
Nine minors have been allowed to marry in New Hampshire in the five years since the minimum age increased to 16, according to Unchained At Last, a nonprofit that advocates for state and federal laws to eliminate child marriage.
The group’s founder and executive director, Fraidy Reiss, who was herself forced into marriage as a teen, testified in favor of an amended version of Altschiller’s bill.
“The fact that a parent consents to a marriage in no way means that that marriage is consensual,” Reiss said during a press conference Thursday.
Altschiller said four out of five child marriages end in divorce, and wedlocked minors often find themselves unable to access the services of attorneys and domestic violence shelters to help them escape.
“Raising the age of marriage does not in any way, shape, or form pass judgment on anyone else’s marriage origin story,” she said. “We can celebrate those who followed a teenage love affair into a decades-long marriage while simultaneously acknowledging that marriage is much, much more than a love story. It is a contract, too, a contract that should be entered into by consenting adults.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which heard testimony Thursday, will have an opportunity to either recommend or disrecommend the bill.
This story first appeared in Globe NH | Morning Report, our free newsletter focused on the news you need to know about New Hampshire, including great coverage from the Boston Globe and links to interesting articles from other places. To get it via email Monday through Friday, sign up here.