Sununu sides with child marriage crusader, calls N.H. law ‘unconscionable’

  • Cassandra Levesque, 18, sits at the Legislative Office Building in Concord last week following a hearing on a set of bills that would lower the marriage age. Gov. Chris Sununu hailed Levesque’s efforts in a statement supporting the legislation Wednesday. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor file

For the Monitor
Published: 1/24/2018 7:18:11 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu agrees with Cassie Levesque – girls as young as 13 years old shouldn’t be allowed to get married in New Hampshire.

Levesque, an 18-year-old Dover High School graduate, is pushing to raise the marriage age to a minimum of 16 years old, the legal age of consent in the state. Last year Levesque watched state legislators kill a bill she had pioneered for a Girl Scouts project, which would have raised New Hampshire’s minimum marriage age to 18 years old. She vowed not to give up.

“She has remained committed to this case and maintained her advocacy throughout the twists and turns of the legislative process over the last year,” Sununu said of Levesque in a letter Wednesday to the state House of Representatives’ Children and Family Law Committee.

“Virtually everyone agrees that the marriage of a 13-year-old child is unconscionable,” the governor wrote. “It is long past time for us to take affirmative action to prevent child marriage.”

Existing state law that dates back more than 100 years allows girls to get married at age 13 and boys at 14 if they have court and parental approval.

The governor said he supports a bill, House Bill 1586, which would raise the minimum marriage age to 16 for both girls and boys, as well as another measure, House Bill 1587, that would prevent judges from authorizing marriages in cases where sex between the parties would constitute sexual assault.

“These bills are about protecting our children,” Sununu said. “As the father of a young daughter and two young sons, I can tell you firsthand that children do not have the lived experiences to make an important lifelong decision such as marriage.”

He said he supports a “no-exceptions” minimum marriage age of 16 years old and leaving it up to judges to decide if it is in a minor’s best interest to be married at 16 or 17 years old.

“My experience and the experiences of parents across the Granite State are supported by science, the teenage brain is not fully developed and teenagers are not at a point in their lives where they are capable of making such a paramount decision,” Sununu said.

Legislation that would have raised the marriage age in the state failed last year after questions were raised over whether teens could marry while one of them was deployed for military service. Legislators said that without being allowed to marry, a spouse would have no ability to receive military death benefits.

Cases of minors married in the state are relatively rare. 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.

In his letter in support of the bills, Sununu praised Levesque, of Barrington, who testified last week in support of the two bills.

“I want to recognize the effort of an extraordinary young Granite Stater who has worked tirelessly to address this important issue,” the governor said. “I am proud to stand with Cassie.”

Also supporting the effort to raise the marriage age to 16 is state Rep. Jackie Cilley.

“I’m absolutely delighted that the governor sees this as bipartisan issues, as do I, and as I hope every member of the House and Senate sees this as well,” Cilley told the Monitor.

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