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It's official: The marriage age is raised in NH

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 19. 2018 10:12AM

CONCORD — Cassandra Levesque of Barrington became somewhat of a worldwide celebrity as she waged a two-year campaign to raise the marriage age in New Hampshire. On Monday, the 19-year-old former Girl Scout celebrated with family and friends as Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law three marriage-related bills.

All three bills started as Levesque’s Girl Scout Gold Award project.

New Hampshire has allowed girls to marry at 13 and boys at 14 with the permission of a judge. With the governor’s signature on HB 1587, the legal age of marriage will be raised to 16 with a judge’s permission for both genders, and to 18 generally.

“It’s an issue that’s really personal to me, since both my grandmother and great-grandmother were child brides,” said Levesque.

With the help of key lawmakers, she was able to navigate the legislative process and persevere after her bill failed to pass in 2017. That bill sought to raise the legal marriage age to 18.

She persisted in 2018, testifying at another round of public hearings, and watching from the gallery when the bills cleared both House and Senate.

The changes will take effect on Jan. 1, 2019, as three separate bills become law. HB 1586 and HB 1587 were sponsored by Rep. Jacalyn Cilley, D-Barrington, while HB 1661 was sponsored by Amanda Gourgue, D-Lee.

HB 1587 raises the legal age of marriage to 16, while HB 1586 addresses a forced marriage that would constitute sexual assault, and HB 1661 requires a judge to grant permission for a marriage of someone 16 or 17 years old.

The young activist’s efforts attracted global attention, as she was interviewed on her campaign against child marriage by national and international media, including the New York Times, Time Magazine and the BBC.

Levesque now leads a Brownie troop of her own, and is a freshman at Southern New Hampshire University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in political science.

“To allow children ages 13, 14 or 15 to marry is just inconceivable,” Levesque said at the House hearing on the bill. “Allowing that to happen takes away their future, and I know in my heart that is not something that anyone here wants to happen.”

Opponents of efforts to change the law last year said young service members should have the right to marry their teenage sweethearts before deployment, so they are not deprived of family benefits. Others voiced concerns about girls who conceive out of wedlock and whose parents support the girls’ marriage to the father.

Also signed into law

Others bills signed into law include:

SB 391: Creating a sexual assault survivors’ bill of rights.

The new law addresses sexual assault evidence collection kits, how long they should be preserved and the circumstances under which they can be destroyed. It also requires certain victim notifications by the attorney general regarding legal rights, including the availability of compensation and restitution.

“This is another important step forward in the long campaign to ensure that survivors of sexual assault are treated with dignity and receive full access to justice,” said state Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, lead sponsor of the bill.

HB 1499: Allowing play-based kindergarten. The bill requires, among other things, that educators create “play-based learning environments that comprise movement, creative expression, exploration, socialization and music.”

HB 1474: Designating the New Hampshire Red as the official Granite State poultry. The bill was proposed as a project by 4th graders from Canaan Elementary School who recommended making the Red, known for its brain power, the state poultry.

HB 587: Prohibiting conversion therapy as a way to change a person’s sexual orientation from gay to straight.

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