Thursday, October 06, 2005

Massachusetts Marriage Laws Under Scrutiny

(Link) In the only US state that allows same-sex marriage, a law on the books since 1913 bars Massachusetts from issuing licenses to out-of-state couples. If overturned, it could allow couples to marry there, then return home to raise heck until they get equal rights in their home states.

1 comment:

LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
From Associated Press

BOSTON -- Massachusetts' highest court heard arguments Thursday in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the residency requirement for gay couples who want to get married in the state.

A lawyer for eight gay couples told the Supreme Judicial Court that a state law governing the issuance of marriage licenses is being used to discriminate against gay couples from other states.

The 1913 law bars licenses from being issued to couples if the union would not be recognized in their home state. Since Massachusetts is the only U.S. state that allows gays to marry, it has been used to bar nonresident same-sex couples from marrying here.

A state prosecutor defended the statute, saying it is being enforced in an evenhanded way for both heterosexual and same-sex couples. Assistant Attorney General Peter Sacks also said Massachusetts must respect the laws of other states, many of which have passed constitutional amendments defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Michele Granda, a Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders attorney arguing on behalf of the plaintiff couples, rejected that claim.

"Marriage with or without this statute does not force any other state to make a decision on marriage," she said.

The eight couples — from Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and New York — wanted to get married in Massachusetts and were denied the chance to do so.

Other states are closely watching the case because if the court strikes down the law, same-sex couples nationwide could come here to wed and demand marriage rights in their home states.

As same-sex marriage became legal in May 2004, Gov. Mitt Romney ordered city and town clerks to enforce the law and wrote to every other governor in the nation that out-of-state same-sex couples would not be allowed to marry in Massachusetts.

A handful of communities initially defied the ban, but eventually capitulated.

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, or GLAD, had brought the lawsuit resulting in the high court ruling in November 2003 that same-sex couples had a right under the state constitution to marry.

"Just as the court said that same-sex couples have right to a marriage license, then it's really wrong to think that officials in the commonwealth could deny that right," said Gary Buseck, legal director at GLAD.

Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom, however, said the law is clear: "If you can't be legally married in your home state, then you can't evade the law by coming to Massachusetts to get married."

A superior court judge upheld the law last year, saying that while she was troubled by the state's decision to suddenly begin enforcing it, the law was not discriminatory because the state has reason to ensure that marriages in Massachusetts are valid in other states.

The plaintiffs asked the state appeals court to hear the case, but the Supreme Judicial Court decided earlier this year to reach down and take the case.

The SJC took the case under advisement and is likely to issue a ruling in several months.