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Editorial: Two reasons for New Hampshire to be embarrassed


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

New Hampshire House Republicans have proven once again that the only young people they are interested in attracting to the state are those who can travel here via time machine from the 17th century.

The latest bit of evidence came on Thursday, when a bill to raise the marriage age to 18 was killed by lawmakers, many of whom claimed to have concerns about the effect the new law would have on 18-year-old enlisted men with even younger girlfriends. Lawmakers essentially decided it is better to continue to allow middle school children to tie the knot than create the possibility that a young soldier might have to hold off on marriage until his would-be spouse is old enough to vote. But the soldier argument has the feel of a red herring. This is about mandating “conservative family values.”

We are aware that the passage of time is no guarantee for human progress, but who in their right mind would consider the marriage of a 13-year-old girl to be a good thing for society? The answer is lawmakers like Rep. David Bates of Windham, who suggested that the only thing worse than a pregnant middle schooler is an unmarried pregnant middle-schooler. 

Bates said, “If we pass this, we will ensure forever that every child born to a minor will be born out of wedlock.” He makes the claim as if allowing a marriage between a young boy and a young, pregnant girl would magically create family stability and guarantee a bright future for the baby. It sure didn’t work out that way for a 13-year-old pregnant girl who married her 17-year-old boyfriend in Newmarket four years ago. As reported by Shawne Wickham in the New Hampshire Union Leader, a judge gave the two permission to marry on May 8, 2013, and the girl filed for divorce four months later, citing infidelity and domestic abuse.

Lawmakers could have kept working on the bill but decided instead to postpone it on a 179-168 vote, and that means it can’t come up for debate again for two years. That’s a long time for New Hampshire to be stuck in the Dark Ages on marriage law, but it’s certainly not the only way Republicans embarrassed the state last week.

We bet that a lot of the same lawmakers who think it should be legal for a 40-year-old man to marry an eighth-grader also believe transgender people shouldn’t be explicitly protected from discrimination.

In a remarkable display of spineless politicking, Speaker Shawn Jasper and other House Republicans tabled a bill that would have made sure that gender identity couldn’t be used as a reason to deny somebody a home, a job or a seat at a restaurant.

Jasper based his argument on the “bathroom predator myth,” which was crafted by anti-LGBT groups and peddled as fact to Republicans who are more than willing to accept it without evidence. Law enforcement officials in more than a dozen states with nondiscrimination protections for transgender people, including every state in New England except New Hampshire, have debunked the claim that men pretend to be transgender to gain access to women’s bathrooms. It doesn’t happen. It’s a story told with the hope that lawmakers like Jasper will embrace and repeat it without actually doing any research or critical thinking.

If you put your ear to the ground near Representatives Hall, the silence you hear is young people staying away from a state that seems to excel at making headlines for all the wrong reasons.