CONCORD, NH (CBS) – It was 17-year-old Cassandra Levesque who learned about New Hampshire’s marriage law at a leadership conference and it left quite an impression. “I was shocked that we still have that law,” she said.
It’s a law that allows girls as young as 13, and boys who are 14 to be married with the consent of a judge who finds a special circumstance.
“It’s hard to understand what special cause could exist to allow a child to enter into marriage,” said Jessica Eskeland of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
Cassandra, as part of a Girl Scout project, worked to craft a piece of legislation to raise the minimum age for marriage to 18. She came to the New Hampshire statehouse to follow the debate on Thursday, but lawmakers rejected the bill.
“They’re just entering their teenage years, going into puberty, just discovering things about themselves. They’re not ready to discover marriage,” she said.
The number of minors marrying has actually been dropping in New Hampshire. But sponsors of the bill say in the last five years two 15-year-old girls have married and one girl as young as 13.
From 1989 to 2016 there were 784 marriages involving minors. Representative Jacalyn Cilley, who sponsored the bill on Cassandra’s behalf, believes current law carries consequences for minors. “There’s a 15 percent high school dropout rate, and increased risk of domestic abuse and violence in a relationship,” she said.
State Representative David Bates who opposed the bill agrees 13 is a young age. But he believes there can be special circumstances such as a pregnancy, and says no judge would randomly allow such a marriage to happen.
“We’re asking the legislature to repeal a law that’s been on the books for over a century, that’s been working without difficulty, on the basis of a request from a minor doing a Girl Scout project,” said Bates.
The bill has become a passion for Cassandra Levesque, but she’s learning there are two sides to the debate. “I feel very accomplished and proud of myself that I’ve gotten this far,” she said.