While child marriage is now rare in New Hampshire, a young lawmaker is leading an effort to restrict marriage in order to protect young girls from marrying older men nationwide, particularly in Democrats states like Massachusetts and California.
“A hundred years ago, women were still getting married young – now we understand that kids need to be kids,” New Hampshire state Rep. Cassie Levesque, 23, told Politico. “They need to be able to grow up, because if they’re thrown right into adulthood, they tend to sink versus swim.”
Permitting teens under the age of 18 to marry puts young girls at risk, according to Levesque and the Gates Foundation-funded anti-child-marriage group Unchained At Last.
“It’s not just the 16-, 17-year-old-puppy love,” Levesque told Politico. “It’s the 16-year-old marrying the 20-something-plus-year-old who is a family friend from a different country, who’s going to take them, and then they’ll be gone.”
While young marriage has become more rare in New Hampshire after Levesque-led after 2018 legislation was signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu, R-N.H., which raised the marriage age to 16, an estimated 297,000 minors were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018, and 60,000 of them were under their states age of sexual consent, according to Unchained At Last.
“There are 44 states in this great country that still allow marriage under the age of 18,” Unchained At Last Executive Director Fraidy Reiss told Politico. “Is that OK?”
Those defending child marriage argue a teen pregnancy can help the baby, according to Nicholas Syrett, author of the 2016 book “American Child Bride: A History of Minors and Marriage in the United States.”
“People who object to banning child marriage believe a baby will be better off if its parents are married,” Syrett told Politico. “There’s not much evidence to suggest that’s true, if the parents are poor and minors to begin with.”
But the reality is up to 80% of child marriages end to divorce and broken families, according to Levesque
“From the early 20th century onward, the younger you get married, the more likely you are to get divorced,” Syrett added.
The issue of child marriage has religious undertones and could connect to the abortion debate, but Politico noted some Democrat states oppose bans on child marriage, including California.
California is one of nine states with no minimum marriage age to marry, according to the report.
Massachusetts, which has no minimum age for marriage if parents and a judge consent, might become the seventh state to ban child marriage, joining New Jersey (2018), Delaware (2018), Pennsylvania (2020), Minnesota (2020), Rhode Island (2021), and New York (2021).
“Once a marriage contract is signed, it’s very difficult to get out of,” according to Massachusetts state Rep. Kay Khan. “If she’s under 18, it’s very difficult to find a lawyer, very difficult to go to court and ask for help.”