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Couples, Officials Target Marriage Law

A 1913 Massachusetts statute used to block weddings by same-sex partners from out of state draws lawsuits. City clerks fear bias charges.

June 18, 2004|Elizabeth Mehren | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — Eight same-sex couples from outside Massachusetts said Thursday they would file suit today to challenge the 1913 law that had blocked nonresident gays and lesbians from marrying in Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.

Also planning to file suit today are the clerks of 12 cities and towns in Massachusetts. The clerks, who issue marriage licenses under state law, contend that they could be sued for discrimination if they continue to withhold licenses for out-of-state couples based on the 1913 law.

The previously obscure statute bars clerks from issuing marriage licenses to couples whose unions would not be legal in their home states. Enacted when Massachusetts was one of a few states that permitted interracial marriage, the law was resurrected by Gov. Mitt Romney as Massachusetts prepared to legalize same-sex marriage on May 17.

According to a survey published Thursday in the Boston Globe, about 2,500 same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses in Massachusetts in the first week such unions were legal. The newspaper said that figure included 164 out-of-state couples.

Clerks in at least four communities granted marriage licenses to nonresident gay couples until Atty. Gen. Tom Reilly on May 21 ordered them to stop.

Mary Bonauto, a lawyer who is the civil rights director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, contended Thursday that the statute that restricted out-of-state couples from marrying here was unconstitutional.

"This was a law that clerks were instructed to ignore for decades, yet the governor pulled it off the shelves just to deny marriage to some gay and lesbian couples," she said.

The group brought the lawsuit that eventually legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and represents the eight out-of-state couples who plan to sue today.

Corey Welford, a spokesman for Reilly, said Thursday that the attorney general had no comment because he had not seen the lawsuits.

In Provincetown -- whose clerk is the lead plaintiff in one of the lawsuits -- the head of the Board of Selectmen said a victory would "allow us to reopen our doors to marriage for everyone."

Provincetown, on the tip of Cape Cod, is home to the highest concentration of gays and lesbians of any community in the country, according to the 2000 U.S. census.

Among the couples bringing suit here today is Katy Gossman, an FBI agent from Connecticut, and her partner, Kristin Gossman, who hope to marry.

"I gladly and proudly put myself at risk for my country," Katy Gossman said.

"But I don't understand why Kristin and I can't be treated equally and have the same protections."

The plaintiff couples come from five states in New England and New York. Some have already married in Massachusetts; others applied for licenses and were denied.

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