New Hampshire Pol Who Called Teens ‘Ripe’ Won’t Apologize to His ‘Haters’

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

The New Hampshire lawmaker who called teenagers “ripe” and “fertile” says the uproar over his comments was an overreaction and that he will not apologize to the “haters.”

Rep. Jess Edwards sparked national outcry when he opposed a bill that would raise the age of marriage from 16 to 18, saying on the House floor that outlawing marriage for people of a “ripe, fertile age” could result in more abortions.

In an interview with The Daily Beast on Tuesday night, Edwards said using the word “ripe” was a mistake, but that he did not deserve the hundreds of emails he received calling him a pedophile and worse.

“I misspoke. It was an inappropriate word,” he said. “But because I have this avalanche of hate, I really don't want to apologize in the face of that, because I don’t want to encourage this behavior for the next guy who says the wrong word.”

“By giving into all of the mob, I don’t want to feed the beast,” he added. “I don’t care to apologize to the haters.”

Edwards, a Republican who is in the midst of his fourth term, added that he apologized to those present at a town GOP meeting Tuesday night for “creating such a stir.”

“They all just basically vocally thanked me for eight years of service and my leadership in the state and the things I’ve gotten accomplished,” he said.

The child marriage bill passed the House last week despite Edwards’ protestations and now goes to Gov. Chris Sununu for his signature. The majority of U.S. states allow marriage at age 16 in some cases, but New Hampshire and Maine are the only states in the Northeast to do so.

Backlash to Edwards’ remarks was swift, with fellow state Rep. Wendy Thomas (D) writing on X: “This is the frickin’ mentality that we have to deal with in New Hampshire. Children (girls) should be allowed to get married because they are ‘ripe and fertile.’”

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the party’s state campaign arm, called his comments “vile and inexcusable” and urged voters to turn out for Democrats who “don’t have disgusting views on child marriage and will instead defend our reproductive freedoms.”

Rep. Alissandra Murray is among those who condemned Edwards, posting a video of his remarks on Twitter and writing: “I’m tired of being called a groomer when Republicans are the ones fantasizing about ‘fertile’ teenagers and demanding legal child marriage.”

“Groomer” is a slur often used by members of right-wing communities to describe queer or trans people and to suggest they are sexually abusing minors. Murray, who is trans and uses they/them pronouns, said they had been called a “groomer” by other members of the state House before and wanted to point out Edwards’ “hypocrisy.”

“I think it’s absolutely terrifying to see the language top Republicans are using around accusing minors to marry what is essentially their rapist … because they think that’s better than abortion,” Murray told The Daily Beast.

“You see them restricting access to abortion and birth control, so this agenda around child marriage is really scary in correlations with that,” they added.

Murray tweeted a screenshot Tuesday of an email Edwards sent them last week accusing them of making “extreme remarks” about his comments.

“It had nothing to do with ‘groomers,’” Edwards wrote. “That’s a sick observation to make Alissandra.”

Edwards also asked Murray to apologize, but told The Daily Beast that demand was in regard to a Reddit post he claimed Murray made telling people to add him to state watch lists. He declined to provide a link to the post, and Murray said they had made no such posting.

Murray also said an apology would not be forthcoming.

“I can’t believe he would even ask, considering the treatment I’ve received ever since I was elected,” they said.

Edwards was elected in 2016 to serve the Rockingham 31 district, which includes the towns of Chesterfield, Auburn, Candia, and Deerfield. He is a retired Army lieutenant colonel whose views lean libertarian, and has been involved in the Free State Project, a movement encouraging libertarians to move to New Hampshire to create a stronghold there.

The legislator said Tuesday that his defense of marriage under age 18 was consistent with his belief in letting people “make decisions for themselves.” He added that he had supported funding Medicaid and family resource centers and sponsored an amendment granting an exception to New Hampshire’s 24-week abortion limit in cases of fatal fetal anomalies and threats to the life of the mother.

“I’m on record as being pro-choice from the New Hampshire abortion perspective, I’ve been pro-choice in terms of funding the social services necessary to support a welfare system, and so the third leg of that stool is to leave marriage as an option,” he said.

He also noted that 38 states still allow minors to marry in some circumstances, and that he had voted to raise the age of marriage in New Hampshire multiple times before.

“I actually think I have an extremely rational and logical and supportable position,” he said.

Edwards has also defended his position on Facebook in recent days, boasting in a post on Monday that he “continued to educate people on the value of individual freedom in the face to [sic] an army of control freaks that want to entice a pregnant woman into an abortion rather than allow a marriage.”

“The culture of death is stronger than a healthy society should want,” he added.

Edwards has previously posted anti-trans comments on Facebook, including a meme comparing trans women wearing makeup to white people wearing Blackface.

In another post Monday, Edwards appeared to joke about his “ripe and fertile” comments, reposting a video of a very young girl talking about a plastic skeleton and writing: “Not fertile.” Edwards told The Daily Beast he was referring to the skeleton.

He later changed the caption on the post to read: “Even a little girl can recognize that the anatomy of a female is designed differently than a man's. We're made to be compatible, not equal.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.