MA law lets out-of-state gay couples marry

July 31, 2008 11:39:21 AM PDT
Massachusetts on Thursday began allowing any gay couple to get married there as Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill repealing a 1913 law that had blocked most out-of-state same-sex couples from tying the knot.The old law barred couples from marrying in Massachusetts if their union would not be legal in their own states.

Patrick said the repeal shows that "equal means equal" in Massachusetts, where a 2003 ruling by the state's highest court made gay marriage legal a year later.

"In five years now ... the sky has not fallen, the earth has not opened to swallow us all up, and more to the point, thousands and thousands of good people - contributing members of our society - are able to make free decisions about their personal future, and we ought to seek to affirm that every chance we can," Patrick said.

Supporters of repealing the measure said the old law had the taint of racism because it was passed 95 years ago as states tried to prevent interracial marriages. The exact reasons the Legislature approved it remain unclear.

Opponents said it prevented Massachusetts from interfering with the decisions of other states - the overwhelming majority of which specifically bar same-sex marriage.

Out-of-state gay couples can marry as soon as Thursday because lawmakers included a provision to make the repeal effective immediately.

"We're being recognized as a married couple," said Joy Spring, of Middletown, N.Y., who planned to marry her partner of seven years, Carla Barbano, in Provincetown on Friday.

Their 11-year-old daughter, Lizzy, will exchange rings with the couple at the ceremony.

"It's extremely important. If something happened to one of us she'd always be taken care of," said Spring, who joined Barbano in a civil union in 2006 in New York.

The couple is from one of the few states that will recognize their impending union: New York Gov. David Paterson said earlier this year that state law requires recognition of legal marriages performed elsewhere.

The California Supreme Court ruled this year that same-sex marriage is legal, and Rhode Island law is quiet on the subject. Other states specifically forbid it, though a few allow same-sex civil unions.

Opponents of same-sex marriage have said repealing the 1913 law would sow confusion and lawsuits in states that have chosen - by public vote in many cases - to bar the practice. The old law had been invoked by then-Gov. Mitt Romney, who said repealing it would make Massachusetts the "Las Vegas of gay marriage."

Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, has said lawmakers' "arrogance and folly" in repealing the law "are doing terrible harm to marriage laws across the country."

Patrick, the state's first black governor, has an 18-year-old daughter who recently came out publicly as a lesbian.

Asked if the change might create legal problems for couples returning to states with gay marriage bans, Patrick said: "What we can do is tend our own garden and make sure that it's weeded, and I think we've weeded out a discriminatory law."

Supporters also said the repeal will allow Massachusetts to share in the economic boon California has enjoyed since June, when it began allowing same-sex marriages with no residency restriction.

A state study estimates that more than 30,000 out-of-state gay couples - most of them from New York - will wed in Massachusetts over the next three years. That would boost the state's economy by $111 million and create 330 jobs, the study estimated.

In Massachusetts, there is a standard three-day waiting period after applying for a license, but any couple can petition a court for a waiver - something gay couples in-state did by the hundreds when the first legal gay marriages in the nation were performed in May 2004.


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