It’s not often middle-schoolers get married in New Hampshire. But it’s still perfectly legal, after the Republican-led House killed a bill Thursday to raise the marriage age to 18.
The rejection leaves intact a state law that lets girls get married as young as age 13 with parental consent and sign-off from a judge. Boys a year older can marry with the same approvals.
Between 1995 and 2012, 323 girls and 46 boys under age 18 have been married, according to the state’s vital statistics.
The number of married minors has declined steadily since 1995, a year when 47 teens were wed.
It’s more common for 16- and 17-year-olds to be married in the state than 14- and 15-year-olds. Since 1995, 14 girls under age 16 were married; no boys under 16 were married during the same time frame.
Though the bill had unanimous backing from the House child law committee, it was toppled after a last-minute push from a handful of Republican representatives.
They argued the age increase would block young soldiers from getting married and providing military benefits to their partners or children. Others said the change could lead to more single-parent households.
“If we pass this, we will ensure forever that every child born to a minor will be born out of wedlock,” said Republican Rep. David Bates, of Windham.
The House voted 179-168 to indefinitely postpone the bill, meaning it effectively can’t come up for the next two years.
Democratic Rep. Jacalyn Cilley filed the bill, which had backing from anti-sexual abuse groups. Supporters said the age increase was needed to protect children from predators and coerced marriages. The age of sexual consent in New Hampshire is 16 years old and at odds with the state’s marriage law, some pointed out.
“Young girls find themselves in a relationship with no autonomy,” said Rep. Mary Beth Walz, a Bow Democrat.
State marriage statistics show that seven 17-year-old girls married men between the ages of 18 and 25 in 2012. The data doesn’t include information about 13-year-olds, although Walz testified one teen that age was married in 2013.
Between 1995 and 2012, state records show only one marriage involved a 14-year-old girl, who married an 18-year-old in Newport in 1998.
“This is ridiculous,” said Jessica Eskeland, of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, after the bill’s defeat. “If parents say yes and a judge signs on, you can have a 13-year-old who is married and can have sex with a 40-year-old husband.”
While few 14- and 15-year-old girls get married, the most recent wedding in that age group was in 2007, when a 15-year-old girl married an 18-year-old man in Salem.
The oldest groom was 40 years old, state records show. He married a 17-year-old girl in 2006.
The oldest bride was 29 years old when she married a 16-year-old boy in Manchester in 2008.
(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or email@example.com.)