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.

Cassandra Levesque (WBZ-TV)

“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.

Cassandra Levesque at NH statehouse (WBZ-TV)

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.

Beth Germano

Comments (41)
  1. Joan DeYoreo says:

    The basis of calling for the change in marriageable age hinges on being able to enter into contracts. One can not rent a car, an apartment, get a loan, a driver’s license or even a library card without having an adult- someone who IS 18 years old or more sign off of grant permission. Representative Bates’ argument about if there is a pregnancy involved still holds no water. If the baby from a marriage between two underage (younger than 18) is sick, who grants permission for that baby to receive healthcare? Neither of the parents can do it legally so actual adults have to be involved. Note to Massachusetts readers- you have a similar law on the books that should be addressed as well. This is not just an issue in NH.

  2. I Think it is real sad and real sick that these girls are allowed at 13 to get married!
    Do you not think that there is enough poverty,enough young ones already who’s parent’s can not care for them,enough babies being abused, these girls are still children,not and adult to handle what some adults today are having a time doing.
    So you let them get married start popping out babies, and then what? Broken homes more on the system. so who ever allows this is so wrong!

  3. David Keith says:

    “State Representative David Bates who opposed the bill …”

    Not surprised that there is opposition to this. Among Hillbillies there is a long tradition of child brides … as well as a tradition of marrying sisters and other close kin.

    Rep. Bates is just protecting his heritage and traditions. Celebrate diversity!

    (Besides, what sort of logic would you expect from someone who grew up being addressed as Master Bates).

  4. Why can’t David Bates state his objection to the proposed change in NH’s marriage law w/o ad hominem comment? Ridicule of the young woman – the young citizen – who proposed the change isn’t persuasive, it’s just nasty. Yes Rep. Bates, the child marriage law has “been on the books for over a century”. Chattel slavery was “on the books” for hundreds of years – your point is . . . .?

  5. Holly Wilder says:

    Your representatives are some real sickos. If I were you, I’d vote those child-rape-preserving jerks out of office.

  6. damonefl says:

    This story isn’t about how old you need to be to say “I do” Lisa Hughes. It’s about rape.

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