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NH outlaws child marriage, raising the legal age to 18

A sample marriage document from the town of Fremont, New Hampshire
Fremont Town Clerk
/
www.fremont.nh.gov
A sample form to apply for a marriage license.

New Hampshire is now the 13th state to outlaw child marriage, after more than a decade of advocacy.

A new law, signed by Gov. Chris Sununu last week, raises the age of legal marriage to 18 years old starting in 2025. Previously, 16- and 17-year-olds could get married with permission of a judge.

“Marriage is more than a love story; it’s a legal contract,” said Sen. Debra Altschiller, the prime sponsor of the law signed by Sununu. “If you’re not legally able to get out of a contract, you shouldn’t be able to get into one.”

Unchained at Last, a national advocacy organization lobbying for an end to child marriage, reviewed marriage certificate data from the state and reported that more than 200 minors were married in New Hampshire since 2000. According to their data, nine of those marriages have happened since 2019, when the state raised the age to 16.

Those celebrating the change include Rep. Cassandra Levesque, a Democrat from Barrington who first learned about child marriage at a Girl Scout conference when she was 15 years old. Back then, state law allowed girls over age 13 and boys over age 14 to get married.

“There are so many problems when it comes to child marriage,” she said Monday. “It opens up a door to human trafficking. It allows rapists to marry their victims. It allows for girls to basically not get to become the full potential that they can be.”

Levesque started lobbying the legislature to change it — and eventually became a lawmaker herself.

A bill to raise the age to 18 stalled in the House last year; this year, Altschiller sponsored a similar proposal that won broad bipartisan support.

But Levesque said her work isn't done. She hopes to continue advocating for child marriage bans in the dozens of states that still allow 16- and 17-year-olds to marry.

“Raising it to 18 shows the rest of the country that we want our girls to live to their full potential, that they can be and choose the lives that they want,” she said.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.