Massachusetts Upholds Out of State Marriage Ban
March 30, 2006
Massachusetts Court Limits Same-Sex Marriages
Copyright by The New York Times
By PAM BELLUCK
BOSTON, March 30 — Massachusetts's highest court ruled today that same-sex couples who live in other states cannot get married in Massachusetts unless gay marriage is legal in their home states.
In an opinion written by Justice Francis X. Spina, the court upheld a 1913 statute that says that no out-of-state resident can get married in Massachusetts if the marriage would be void in the person's home state, unless the person intends to live in Massachusetts. Five justices concurred, at least in part, with Justice Spina's opinion; one justice dissented.
"The laws of this commonwealth have not endowed nonresidents with an unfettered right to marry," Justice Spina wrote for the majority. "To the contrary, the rights of nonresidents to marry in Massachusetts have been specifically restricted."
He added, "I recognize that the brunt" of the law's impact "has inevitably fallen disproportionately on nonresident same-sex couples rather than on nonresident opposite-sex couples" because no other state currently allows gay marriage.
However, he said, the fact that the court had ruled in November 2003 that Massachusetts same-sex couples should be allowed to marry "does not now compel a conclusion that nonresident same-sex couples, who have no intention of living in Massachusetts, have an identical right to secure a marriage license that they could not otherwise obtain in their home states."
The original lawsuit was filed by eight out-of-state couples and 12 cities and towns, claiming the 1913 statute was discriminatory and had been invalidated by the legalization of gay marriage in the state.
In its decision, the court denied the claims of all but the couples from New York and Rhode Island, because laws in those states have not specifically outlawed said gay marriage.
The high court sent those cases back to the superior court judge who had originally denied them, asking the judge to determine whether same-sex marriage is allowed in those states.
The case began after gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts in May 2004. Gov. Mitt Romney, a gay marriage opponent, invoked the 1913 statute, which had been originally adopted in part to block interracial marriages. Mr. Romney refused to record marriages of out-of-state same-sex couples, saying "Massachusetts should not become the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage."
On Thursday, Mr. Romney said in an interview: "This is an important victory for traditional marriage and for the right to each state to be sovereign as it defines marriage. It would have been wrong for this court to impose it's same sex ruling on the other 49 states of America."
Only one justice, Roderick L. Ireland, dissented, writing that "the commonwealth's resurrection of a moribund statute to deny nonresident same-sex couples access to marriage is not only troubling," but "also is fundamentally unfair."
Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall concurred with much of the Justice Spina's opinion, but said that same-sex couples "who reside in states where they are not expressly prohibited from marrying by statute, constitutional amendment, or controlling appellate court decision, be permitted, at the very least , to present evidence to rebut the commonwealth's claim that their home state would prohibit their marriage."