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Friday, March 31, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


Massachusetts won't marry all gays

The Washington Post

Massachusetts's highest court ruled Thursday that most gay couples from other states cannot get married there, the first decision to affirm a limit on the landmark same-sex marriage law in the Bay State.

"The laws of this commonwealth have not endowed nonresidents with an unfettered right to marry," Justice Francis Spina wrote for the majority in the 38-page opinion.

"Only nonresident couples who come to Massachusetts and intend to reside in this commonwealth thereafter can be issued a marriage license."

In two separate opinions, six justices ruled against eight same-sex couples and 13 town clerks who challenged a 1913 law that bars couples from out of state from marrying in Massachusetts if their unions would not be recognized in their home states. Only one member of the court, Justice Robert Ireland, dissented.

The little-known statute was drafted at a time Massachusetts permitted mixed-race couples to marry, but most other states did not.

If the court had struck down the law, Massachusetts would have been thrown open to gay couples from across the country to get married. They then could have returned to their home states to fight for legal recognition for those marriages.

The court ruled in 2003 that it would be unconstitutional under state law to prevent gay couples who live in Massachusetts from marrying.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is considering a bid for the Republican presidential nomination and often mentions his opposition to same-sex marriage, called the decision a victory for "traditional marriage." He had ordered local officials to enforce the 1913 law after the state's highest court issued its same-sex marriage ruling.

"We don't want Massachusetts to become the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage," Romney said.

Michele Granda, a staff attorney for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders in Boston, represented the couples who sought to marry in Massachusetts. Granda said she was disappointed by the decision but called it an opportunity to review a law that the court called confusing.

"The court made it very clear that this is an unworkable law," she said. "We do think that it would be appropriate for the Legislature to repeal it now."

According to the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics, 7,341 gay couples wed in Massachusetts between the first marriages in May 2004 and December 2005. The state does not track how many out-of-state couples were given licenses in Massachusetts.

The Washington state Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on the constitutionality of a state law prohibiting same-sex marriage. Two lower courts have struck down the law. Unlike Massachusetts, Washington has no law prohibiting nonresidents from getting married there if their own state prohibits it.

The Massachusetts court sent cases involving couples from Rhode Island and New York back to a lower court, saying it was unclear whether those states prohibit same-sex marriage.

New York's top officials have said same-sex marriage is illegal, although that interpretation is being challenged.

Material from The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times

is included in this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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