Obscure Mass. law prohibits some same-sex marriages

Only couples who live in state allowed to marry

April 28, 2004|By Elizabeth Mehren | Elizabeth Mehren,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BOSTON - Their plan was to fly here May 17 and take out a marriage license. After the required three-day waiting period, Matt Foreman and Francisco de Leon intended to exchange wedding vows in Cambridge, then head home to New York.

But Gov. Mitt Romney has ordered city clerks to enforce an obscure law from 1913 that prohibits out-of-state couples from marrying in Massachusetts if their home states do not permit them to marry. And that has put everything on hold for Foreman and de Leon - along with thousands of other gay and lesbian couples from around the United States.

In a pair of rulings last November and in January, this state's highest court mandated same-sex marriage to begin May 17. Last month, the state Legislature passed a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman. But that measure cannot take effect before November 2006 - the earliest opportunity for voters to decide on the amendment.

Unable to block Massachusetts from becoming the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, the Republican governor has ordered city and town clerks to demand proof of residency from gay and lesbian couples who seek marriage licenses.

Romney also will send a letter this week to governors and attorneys general in 49 states informing them of the restrictions implicit in a law written at a time when Massachusetts permitted interracial marriages but many other states did not. Under Romney's interpretation, the proscription from 1913 extends to states that do not allow same-sex marriage.

"It is our view that gay marriage is not legal anywhere in the United States except Massachusetts, starting on May 17," said Shawn Feddeman, the governor's press secretary. "The 1913 law is actually printed right on the marriage form."

A spokesman for Attorney General Tom Reilly said yesterday that the law was still valid.

A Democratic state legislator, Rep. Robert Spellane of Worcester, has filed a bill to repeal the 1913 law. But Charles Rasmussen, chief of staff to House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, said yesterday, "In all honesty, I don't think anything on gay marriage will get through the legislature before the May date."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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