A lawmaker wearing a suit speaks on the floor of the Maine Legislature.
Rep. Kevin O'Connell, D-Brewer, speaks on the House floor, Monday, April 25, 2022, at the State House in Augusta, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

AUGUSTA, Maine — An effort to bar those under age 17 from marrying got through the Maine Senate on Thursday, putting the state on track to tighten restrictions on child marriage without banning the practice outright.

The bill is the second attempt on the subject in two years from Rep. Kevin O’Connell, D-Brewer, who failed to get an effort to bar marriage for all minors through the upper chamber in 2021.

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, co-sponsored the measure this year, putting it in a better position to pass.

It passed the Senate in a 20-10 vote on Thursday after the House of Representatives endorsed it on Tuesday without a roll-call vote. The bill faces final votes in both chambers.

O’Connell’s bill was opposed by eight Republicans and two Democrats in the Senate, showing that remnants of the bipartisan divide that killed the bill last year still remain on an issue fraught with religious and cultural implications.

Under current law, Mainers must reach 18 to decide to marry on their own. Parental consent is needed for those aged 16 and 17, while younger children cannot marry under a 2019 law. O’Connell’s bill initially aimed to bar marriage until age 18, but 17-year-olds would still be able to marry with consent under the version that cleared both chambers.

These types of marriages are rare in Maine. Between 2014 and 2018, 58 Mainers below age 18 got married, according to state data. All were 16 and 17, and only four marriages were between minors. In 10 of the marriages, age gaps were greater than five years. Seven of those were between people born outside the U.S., where cultural norms on the topic are different.

Laws on the subject are relatively loose across the country. Only seven states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, bar marriage for those under 18 with no exceptions, according to Equality Now, a group that advocates nationally for restrictions on child marriages. Another 20 states have no minimum age and require parental or judicial consent.

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...