Mass. officials issue gay marriage warning

Justices of the peace told to `follow the law'

April 26, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Justices of the peace in Massachusetts must perform same-sex marriages when they become legal in the state next month, state officials said yesterday, and they warned that those who refused could face discrimination lawsuits.

"Your task is straightforward and can be summed up in three words: Follow the law," Daniel B. Winslow, chief legal counsel for Gov. Mitt Romney, told a meeting of the Massachusetts Justices of the Peace Association at a hotel in this town 30 miles northwest of Boston. "If you hold true to your oath of office and follow the law, whether you agree with it or not, you will fulfill your duty as a justice of the peace."

Winslow urged any justice with qualms about officiating for same-sex couples to resign.

David Fried, of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, said at the meeting that justices could be personally liable under the state's anti-discrimination law if they turned away same-sex couples who requested their services.

The state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled in November that it was unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses but stayed its decision for 180 days to give the Legislature time to act. Despite efforts by Romney, a Republican, and the Legislature to further delay the ruling, officials are preparing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting May 17.

But Romney said Friday that same-sex couples who lived outside Massachusetts would not be able to marry in the state, based on a 1913 law that says people cannot be married in Massachusetts if their union would be "void" in their home state.

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