Girl Scout who pioneered child marriage bill elected to N.H. House

  • Cassandra Levesque, 18, sits for a photo at the Legislative Office Building in Concord following a hearing where she spoke in favor of a set of bills related to the age of marriage in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Jackie Cilley and Cassandra Levesque of Barrington at the State House on Tuesday. Paul Steinhauser

Monitor staff
Published: 11/8/2018 4:03:45 PM

Cassie Levesque feels like she is part of a movement.

A movement where young people in New Hampshire – in particular women – are getting their voices heard in politics.

Levesque, known for her efforts to increase the marriage age in New Hampshire as part of a girl scout project, was elected to the state House of Representatives on Tuesday. She said the election, which saw the number of people under 40 in the legislature double, is the start of a new wave of young adult involvement in the state.

“A lot of what happens in politics has been all about men for years,” Levesque, 19, of Barrington, said Thursday. “Now, young women have started to step up. It’s really time for girls to start taking the lead on things.”

New Hampshire Public Radio reported that in the last legislative session, there were 23 state representatives under the age of 35. Now there will be at least 42 representatives under the age of 40, following Tuesday’s elections.

Levesque said she hadn’t originally planned on running this year – she has a busy schedule with online political science courses from Southern New Hampshire University and her position as a girl scout leader in Barrington. She is also still in the process of getting her driver’s license, and was worried about the commute to Concord, she said.

But after talking it over with a few legislators she met during her work in the State House – including Jackie Cilley, who sponsored her child marriage bill – Levesque decided she didn’t want to wait.

She had work she wanted to do now – and it was worth going for, she said. Levesque was one of five candidates vying for House seat this year.

“I always said that if I win, it’s a great experience, and if I lose it’s still a great experience,” she said.

In 2017, as a senior at Dover High School, Levesque began her push to raise the marriage age – 13 for girls and 14 for boys – as part of a Girl Scouts project that ultimately earned her the organization’s gold award. Both her grandmother and great-grandmother entered into child marriages in their teens to escape abuse at home.

Levesque’s first attempt to change the law – to raise the marriage age in New Hampshire to 18 – failed amid questions over whether teens could marry while one of them was deployed for military service. Legislators said that without being allowed to marry, a spouse would have no ability to receive military death benefits.

But Levesque and Cilley resumed their drive this legislative season with a new bill to raise the marriage age to 16, which is legal age of consent in New Hampshire. They won the support of Sununu, who praised Levesque in a January letter to lawmakers urging passage of the measures.

Sununu signed the bill into law in June. Levesque said that experience taught her the impact that one person can make in state government.

She said that as a legislator, she is determined to revisit the state’s marriage age, and bump it up to 18. She also wants to work on ways to make college more affordable, and how to bring in and keep young people in the state.

She said having a young person work on bills that affect young people will be an asset to the House. In 2015, the average age of a New Hampshire state legislator was 66 years old. The National Conference of State Legislatures called the New Hampshire legislature the oldest in the country.

“They have had some trouble trying to get into the mindset of generations after them – its a totally different time than when they were my age,” she said. “Having someone new to help them see different perspective will definitely help.”

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