Hassan honors Barrington teen, critic of underage marriage, on Senate floor

  • 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

  • Maggie Hassan Jim Cole

Monitor staff
Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Barrington teenager pushing to overhaul New Hampshire’s marriage age laws came into the national spotlight Monday night, receiving honors from U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan in a speech on the Senate floor.

Addressing her colleagues to tout her latest “Granite Stater of the Month” award, Hassan paid tribute to Cassandra Levesque, the unlikely face of a two-year effort to end child marriages in the state.

For years, Levesque, 18, has pressed a singular cause: raising the minimum marriage age in New Hampshire above present levels – 13 for girls and 14 for boys. The efforts have been persistent, if frustrating; Levesque could only watch as a bill to increase the age to 18 was shot down on the House floor last year.

Levesque, who originally took up the cause for a Girl Scouts project, has shepherded it along the way, seeking out representatives to craft and sponsor the bill and appearing at hearings to testify and observe votes. And despite last year’s negative vote – made after lawmakers raised concerns about underage parents having chilredren out of wedlock – the teenager has kept up the effort, backing a new bill to push the age limit to 16, New Hampshire’s age of legal consent.

Speaking to the Senate, Hassan praised Levesque’s political passion, holding it up as a reflection of the state at large.

“Cassandra exemplifies New Hampshire’s strong tradition of civic engagement – especially by women – and she has inspired other young people to become active in their communities, too,” Hassan said in the speech.

Child marriage is relatively rare in New Hampshire and has dropped slightly in recent decades. But advocates for reform say the practice can lead to emotional trauma and domestic violence, as well as decreased employment opportunities and high rates of divorce down the line. And in the Granite State, marrying under 16 exempts a couple from the laws of statutory rape, advocates note.

Levesque’s latest bill, House Bill 1587, awaits a Feb. 20 vote in the House Children and Family Law Committee – a public hearing was held Jan. 16.

On Monday, Hassan threw support behind Levesque’s cause, describing the effort as closing a loophole and calling it “an important fight.” And the senator took a moment to highlight the teenager’s industriousness in leading the way.

“In New Hampshire, we roll up our sleeves and work together to address injustices and solve problems in our communities, and Cassandra is a perfect example of that spirit,” Hassan said.

(Staff writer Leah Willingham contributed to this report.)(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)