Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Some Gay New Yorkers Gain in Ruling on Marriages

May 16, 2007
Some Gay New Yorkers Gain in Ruling on Marriages
NY Times
BOSTON, May 15 — A little-noticed resolution to a case involving same-sex couples from New York will allow dozens of them to be considered legally married in Massachusetts, and apparently in their home state as well.

The matter, resolved in a Boston courtroom last week, had its roots in a 2004 decision by Mitt Romney, then the governor. Soon after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage by court order in May of that year, Mr. Romney, invoking a 1913 law, proclaimed that same-sex couples from out of state could not marry here unless they intended to move to Massachusetts or their home state did not prohibit their marriage.

Out-of-state couples challenged the decision, but Judge Thomas E. Connolly of the Suffolk County Superior Court here ruled last year that Rhode Island was the only state that did not explicitly bar same-sex couples from marrying.

In his ruling, Judge Connolly noted that in New York, where one of the plaintiff couples lived, the Court of Appeals, that state’s highest judicial body, had ruled that same-sex marriage was not allowed.

But lawyers for the plaintiffs saw an opening. The New York decision had been issued on July 6, 2006, more than two years after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts. What about those New York couples who had married in Massachusetts before July 2006?

“Those couples should be able to be legally married,” said Michele Granda, a lawyer for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, who represented the plaintiffs.

It turned out that the Massachusetts attorney general’s office, the defendant in the lawsuit, did not object to that interpretation. In an interview Tuesday, Attorney General Martha Coakley said, “We agreed that for the period between May 17, 2004, when same-sex marriage was legalized, to July 6, 2006, marriages of couples from New York are fully valid and did not and do not violate our general laws.”

Judge Connolly signed off on that agreement last Thursday. It is not clear how many couples are affected, but Carisa Cunningham, spokeswoman for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, said that “it’s certainly in the dozens.”

Those marriages are also expected to be considered legal in New York. John Milgrim, a spokesman for the office of that state’s attorney general, said, “Since 2004 it has been the position of the attorney general’s office that New York law presumptively requires the recognition of marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions.”

The decision is welcome news for Tanya Wexler and Amy Zimmerman, a couple from New York City who were married in May 2004 and were plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“It just lifts the cloud over our license,” said Ms. Wexler, 36, a filmmaker.

Ms. Zimmerman, 34, a stay-at-home mother to the couple’s four children, said: “For the last three years, we’ve been saying, ‘Well, we got married in Massachusetts; it’s kind of valid.’ Now it feels really different to us. We can say, ‘Yes, we were married in Massachusetts, and we’re married.’ ”

Vincent Maniscalco, 46, and Edward DeBonis, 55, of Averill Park, N.Y., near Albany, were also married in Massachusetts in May 2004 and are similarly cheered to learn of their newly official status.

“Now we hope that this will help move along the equal marriage bill here in New York,” Mr. Maniscalco said.

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