Monday, July 21, 2008

Mass. Senate votes to let out-of-state gays marry -

Mass. Senate votes to let out-of-state gays marry -

By Steve LeBlanc
Associated Press Writer / July 15, 2008
BOSTON—Gay couples from across the country are one step closer to a Massachusetts wedding.

The state Senate voted Tuesday to repeal a 1913 law used to bar out-of-state gay couples from marrying here. The law prohibits couples from obtaining marriage licenses if they couldn't legally wed in their home states.

The House is expected to vote on the repeal later this week. Gov. Deval Patrick, whose 18-year-old daughter announced publicly last month she is a lesbian, would have 10 days to sign it.

Michael Thorne, 55, and James Theberge, 50, say they're hoping for an August wedding in Provincetown.

The Maine couple have been together for 25 years, have two children, and wanted to get married four years ago after Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriages. They were blocked when then-Gov. Mitt Romney ordered town clerks to enforce the little-known law and deny licenses to out-of-state gay couples,

"If Gov. Patrick signs the bill, we'll be at the Provincetown City Hall (in August)," said Thorne, who called Maine's domestic partnership law a poor substitute.

Patrick, a Democrat and the state's first black governor, said the 95-year-old statute also carries a racist taint.

The law dates to a time when the majority of states outlawed interracial marriages. Critics said the law was designed to smooth relations with those states. Massachusetts has allowed interracial marriages since 1843.

Dianne Wilkerson, the Massachusetts Senate's lone black member, said the vote was long overdue. She called the law "evil."

"This is one of the most pernicious statutes on our books," said Wilkerson, D-Boston. "This bill puts the final nail in the coffin of those dark days."

The bill passed on a voice vote.

Opponents of gay marriage said the 1913 statute is needed to ensure Massachusetts respects the marriage laws of other states. They said it will also help prevent same-sex couples from entering into marriages and then returning to states that have already passed laws or amended their constitutions to bar gay marriages.

"The Massachusetts Senate has no right to infringe on the internal issues of how other states define marriage, but that's exactly what they voted today to do," said Kris Mineau of Massachusetts Family Institute.

The law was rarely enforced until Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2003 that the state could no longer bar gay couples from marrying.

Romney, then eyeing a run for president, ordered city and town clerks to enforce the statute, although some town clerks balked.

Eight gay couples from surrounding states challenged the 1913 law in court and in 2006 the same court that allowed gay marriage refused to toss out the law.

Mark Pearsall and Paul Trubey of Lebanon, Conn. were among the plaintiffs. The two married on May 21, 2004, just before Romney closed the door on out-of-state gay couples.

While they remain married in Massachusetts, the best Pearsall, a 41-year-old teacher, and Trubey, a 45-year-old goat dairy farmer, can do in Connecticut is a civil union.

Pearsall still welcomes the chance that Massachusetts might open its door to other marriage-minded gay couples from other states. He said the couple cherishes their Massachusetts marriage.

"When we got married it was really a powerful thing for both of us and for our families," he said. "The civil union, by comparison, it was nothing. It was just a legal document."

But Anne Stanback, president of the Connecticut gay rights group Love Makes a Family, said she doubts many Connecticut couples will opt to travel across the border to marry in Massachusetts.

Connecticut has a civil unions law, and the state's Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on a lawsuit that could make marriage legal in that state.

"What's hard for couples here is that even if they went to Massachusetts to get married, it still wouldn't be recognized in our state," she said. "It will take us passing a marriage law in Connecticut or getting a Supreme Court ruling in our favor to have those marriages recognized here."

Gay marriage foes like Mineau said activists are deliberately portraying the law as racist to speed its repeal.

"Legislators were pressured unscrupulously by same-sex marriage activists to dismantle this law or be branded racists," he said.

But advocates say the segregation-era law was clearly intended to abet discrimination.

Wilkerson said the law was adopted a time of racial tension including a national scandal over black heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson's marriage to Lucille Cameron, who was white.

The law makes no explicit racial reference, but outlaws marriages by couples from other jurisdictions if the nuptials "would be void if contracted in such other jurisdiction."

It allows a city and town clerk to "satisfy himself, by requiring affidavits or otherwise, that such person is not prohibited from intermarrying by the laws of the jurisdiction where he or she resides."

The law collected dust for decades. Heterosexual couples from out-of-state were rarely, if ever, challenged. Issues such as whether they were cousins could make their marriages illegal in Massachusetts.

Repealing the law could also have economic benefits.

An analysis released by the state Office of Housing and Economic Development found repealing the law would draw thousands of couples to Massachusetts, boosting the economy by $111 million, creating 330 jobs and generating $5 million in taxes and fees over three years.

The study assumes New York would provide the largest number of gay couples -- more than 21,000 couples -- with New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, and Maine bringing the total to more than 30,000 in the first three years after the ban was lifted.

Another factor driving the repeal effort in Massachusetts is California's recent embrace of same-sex marriage.

California has no residency requirement to obtain a marriage license.

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