Cassie Puts Her Inner G.I.R.L. to the Test to Fight Child Marriage
Cassie Levesque, a lifelong Girl Scout and all-around amazing G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ from Girl Scouts of Green and White Mountains, began her journey for justice in 2015 at the Girl Scouts of Southeastern New England’s Annual Senior Leadership Conference. After listening to a UNICEF speaker, Cassie learned that child marriage was still prevalent in many communities worldwide, including some in the United States. Once home in New Hampshire, Cassie researched marriage laws for the state and found out that girls can be married at just 13 years old, and boys at 14. At that moment, Cassie thought, “I’m 16, and I don’t feel ready for marriage, but this is happening to girls even younger than me. I have to fight this.”
As Girl Scouts often do, Cassie quickly leapt into action. She started her quest for change by thoroughly researching child marriage and building a team of elected officials to confront the issue. First she contacted New Hampshire State Representative Jackie Cilley to discuss putting together a bill to raise the legal marriage age in New Hampshire. The bill needed two sponsors, so Cassie and Rep. Cilley set up a meeting with Rep. Frederick Berrien, who agreed to cosponsor the bill. Later Cassie joined forces with her Girl Scout Gold Award adviser Joan DeYoreo, who introduced Cassie to New Hampshire State Rep. Ellen Read, the bill’s junior sponsor. Then, along with Reps. Cilley, Berrien, and Read, New Hampshire State Senators David Watters and Martha Fuller Clark and Rep. Cindy Rosenwald also joined the team.
In addition to cosponsoring the bill, Rep. Read taught Cassie how to keep track of it as it made its way through the system and, ultimately, to a vote. Finally, after two years of spreading her message and championing the bill, Cassie stood in the gallery of the New Hampshire House of Representatives in spring 2017 as her bill failed to pass. Unfortunately, the House also voted to bar the bill from coming up again for a vote for two years. The loss definitely came as a blow, but it has not marked the end of Cassie’s fight against child marriage.
“I was upset and very disappointed,” Cassie said. “But when Rep. Cilley asked me if I wanted to keep fighting, I immediately replied, ‘Yes. I am not giving up.’”
Cassie’s mother Patty added, “I saw the passion in her eyes, and I knew she would continue to fight. She will not give up until the law is changed, and she has our full support to do that.”
Joan is also committed to supporting Cassie for the long haul. “This is such an important issue,” Joan said. “So many people don’t realize that there are at least 28 states where there is no floor to the age at which people can get married. And now, thanks to all of Cassie’s hard work, the representatives and senators in her corner are very passionate about helping her get this bill passed in New Hampshire. So far, there has also been a lot of press on the issue, too. Cassie even got an offer to appear on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee! So we’re hopeful that support will continue to build, and change will come.”
Next year, when Cassie will create a plan for new legislation, she plans to continue working closely with Reps. Cilley and Read, along with other state representatives, to fight back against the initial loss and pave a new path toward change. In the meantime, Cassie will expand on her Girl Scout Gold Award project, which teaches kids about advocacy and finding their voice while giving them the tools they need to create change in their communities.
“The goal of my project is to teach kids about advocacy in a way that they can understand. That’s why I created tools for different age levels,” Cassie said. “I want to show kids that they have a huge voice and they can get it heard like I did mine, even if they’re just in kindergarten.”
As Cassie heads off to college this fall at the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester, she says she will take the many lessons she’s learned as a Girl Scout with her. She will even lead a troop of Daisies! “I’m ready to give back and inspire girls like I’ve been inspired throughout my time as a Girl Scout,” she said.
As the only girl in her original troop who stayed with the program for the full 13 years, Cassie grew into a true leader and advocate. Patty says it has been an honor to not only be Cassie’s mom but also her troop leader. “Cassie was always the quietest girl in our troop,” Patty said. “She gained her courage and her strength through Girl Scouts. She learned bravery and courage, and she needed all of those tools to do all the great work she has done to try to pass this marriage bill. Girl Scouts also taught her to be diplomatic and consider other people’s arguments, and she has relied heavily on those skills throughout this entire process. This is a very proud moment for us.”
Cassie, we are incredibly proud of you, too! You truly embody what it means to take the lead like a Girl Scout and work hard for positive change, no matter what obstacles might stand in your way. We know you will continue to grow, fight, and give back, showing girls everywhere that a Girl Scout can, in fact, do anything. Keep shining. We’ll be cheering you on every step of the way!