NH GOP lawmaker defending “ripe, fertile” underage girls being allowed to marry draws backlash

New Hampshire Republican State Representative Jess Edwards defended child marriage in New Hampshire, saying girls as young as 16 who were "ripe" and "fertile" should maintain the ability to get married in the state, sparking widespread backlash. (NH House Youtube)

By Colin Booth

May 7, 2024

Last week New Hampshire House Democrats succeeded in passing State Senate 359 aimed at raising the age of marriage to 18 without exceptions, capping a years-long battle in the legislature which only raised the marrying age to 16 in 2018.

The win comes despite significant resistance by Republicans, who voted in large numbers to preserve the practice, with 174 GOP lawmakers voting to keep child marriage legal in the state.

This includes Republican State Rep Jess Edwards, whose language defending the practice drew gasps and groans from lawmakers.

“When we do this to people who are of ripe, fertile age and may have a pregnancy and a baby involved, are we not in fact, making abortion a much more desirable alternative when marriage might be the right solution for some freedom loving couples?” Edwards asked.

Edwards’ remarks went viral on social media and drew national headlines.

The two Democratic lawmakers who have been long-time champions of raising the age in the state — State Rep Cassie Levesque and State Senator Debra Altschiller — celebrated the passage of the legislation, saying a great deal of education was required to get the bill past the finish line.

“A lot of [Republicans] say oh, we were married at 16 and we turned out great, and my marriage was great, and I always say that’s really great, but all those child marriages don’t end in a happy ending. They end with someone having bruises and cuts and being pushed down stairs and losing their kids,” Levesque said.

RELATED: VIDEO: NH Republican State Rep Defends Child Marriage

Senator Altschiller echoed the need to educate conservative lawmakers on the impact child marriage was having in the state behind the scenes.

“The reality in New Hampshire is that young girls were being married off to adult men, much older men, and this was used for trafficking purposes… And so once we started pulling up that evidence, and explaining how traffickers use this, this gap in the New Hampshire law, we were finally able to convince people that this is a problem that we need to solve,” Altschiller said.

“We started in 2018 and raised the age from 13 for girls and 14 for boys up to 16. And that was a real, real battle and we know that we have had child marriages here in New Hampshire and it’s just wrong. And it’s kind of gross, actually.”

Asked if she believed Governor Chris Sununu would sign the bill if it hits his desk, Altschiller was optimistic.

“Of course he’s gonna sign it like, I think that would be a terrible legacy to go out on, you know, ‘I was governor of New Hampshire and I left by vetoing the raising the age of marriage.’ That seems like a crazy idea. So I think he will sign it.”

None of this has stopped the NH GOP-aligned State Libertarian Party from railing against the vote, posting a statement defending child marriage, saying “If you’re old enough to have sex, you’re old enough to get married.”

Edwards remarks have attracted national attention, including from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, who are devoting considerable resources to electing Democrats in the New Hampshire state legislature in 2024.

“Rep. Jess Edwards’ comments about young girls in New Hampshire are vile and inexcusable. Period. End of story. As if defending child marriage wasn’t reprehensible enough, Rep. Edwards used this disgusting language to justify his anti-abortion extremism,” said DLCC Communications Director Abhi Rahman.

“Republicans’ obsession with controlling both girls’ and women’s bodies is exactly why the DLCC is focused on breaking the GOP trifecta in New Hampshire in 2024. The Republican Party in New Hampshire is growing more extreme and out of step with voters and Granite Staters deserve Democrats in the legislature who don’t have disgusting views on child marriage and will instead defend our reproductive freedoms.”


  • Colin Booth

    Based in Epsom, Colin Booth is Granite Post's political correspondent. A Granite State native and veteran political professional with a deep background in journalism, he's worked on campaigns and programs in battleground states across the country, ranging from New Hampshire, Texas, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.


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