With wedding bells pealing all week in Massachusetts for same-sex couples, Gov. Mitt Romney on Friday stepped up his effort to block out-of-state gays and lesbians from marrying here.
The Republican governor, a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, delivered the records of 10 nonresident couples who received marriage licenses this week from city and town clerks to Atty. Gen. Tom Reilly. Romney wants Reilly to invoke a 1913 law that bars couples from marrying in Massachusetts if their unions would not be legal in their home states.
Romney said his goal was not to punish any of the couples or the clerks who issued the licenses, but to clarify a law established when Massachusetts was one of a handful of states that permitted interracial marriage.
This week Massachusetts became the only state to allow gays and lesbians to marry.
“We’ve referred these cases to the attorney general for whatever enforcement action he deems appropriate,” the governor’s press secretary, Shawn Feddeman, said Friday.
After reviewing the material Friday, Reilly said he would tell town clerks to stop issuing marriage licenses to couples from most other states. He pointed out that 12 states do not have so-called defense-of-marriage statutes that define marriage as between a man and a woman. Reilly said same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts might be legal in those states. California has such a statute.
Clerks in more than 100 towns and cities across the state have issued at least 1,700 marriage licenses to same-sex couples since a Supreme Judicial Court ruling legalizing gay and lesbian marriage took effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday. Cambridge, which issued the state’s first same-sex license, gave out more than 200 on Monday alone.
The clerks in Provincetown, Springfield, Somerville and Worcester announced in advance that they intended to disregard the governor’s order to implement the 1913 law. Only Provincetown and Springfield heeded his request to turn over the records of out-of-state licenses issued to same-sex couples.
Doug Johnstone, the clerk in Provincetown, said Friday that his office had issued more than 200 marriage licenses to same-sex couples this week -- about 30% to out-of-state couples.
“It’s mostly Massachusetts and -- not surprisingly -- mostly Provincetown,” Johnstone said. The resort community at the tip of Cape Cod has one of the country’s largest concentrations of gay and lesbian residents,according to the 2000 census.
Although just 19 marriage licenses were issued in Provincetown in 2003, Johnstone said Friday that the Town Hall had taken on the cheerful air of a wedding assembly line.
“We’ve got [same-sex] couples waiting in line to get their licenses, and couples waiting on the front lawn to get married,” he said. “It’s great.”
In Boston this week, the state Senate passed a bill to repeal the 1913 law. But Speaker of the House Thomas M. Finneran said legislators would not take up the measure until consideration of the Massachusetts budget was completed. Finneran, who opposes same-sex marriage, said that process could take weeks.
Attorney Mary Bonauto of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders said Friday that her office was weighing what action to take to ensure that marriage in Massachusetts remained open to all same-sex couples.
“We think the governor’s efforts are blatantly discriminatory,” said Bonauto, who represented seven gay and lesbian couples in the lawsuit that generated the high court decision permitting same-sex marriage here. Out-of-state heterosexual couples routinely marry in Massachusetts with no challenge to their residency, she said.
Bonauto called the governor “a man who is obsessed with this issue and is determined to throw up a fence around the commonwealth of Massachusetts.... All of a sudden, the only nonresident couples who can’t marry are gay and lesbian.”
But foes of same-sex marriage cheered the governor’s stance. “The 1913 statute is an enforceable law on the books, and the Massachusetts Family Institute applauds Gov. Romney’s action to see that the law is enforced,” institute spokesman Ray McNulty said.