Massachusetts clerks to get gay marriage training

BY admin

March 27 2004 1:00 AM ET

Town and city clerks throughout Massachusetts said they received notification this week that they will be trained in early May to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples, but a spokeswoman for the governor declined to confirm that the training has been scheduled. The notification is a sign that state officials could be planning for gay marriage, which the supreme judicial court ruled has to be allowed by May 17. Meanwhile, Gov. Mitt Romney is considering asking the state's highest court to stay its decision.

Both Linda E. Hutchenrider of Barnstable, president of the Massachusetts Towns Clerks' Association, and Stanley E. Nyberg, registrar of the state's Registry of Vital Records and Statistics, confirmed that the training has been scheduled, The Boston Globe reported. The registry oversees the issuance of marriage licenses.

However Romney spokeswoman Nicole St. Peter said she had "no knowledge of training being scheduled." "At the appropriate time, the administration will communicate with city and town clerks. Currently, it's premature to do that," she said.

St. Peter also said the governor would not publicly comment on whether he will ask the court to stay its decision until after the Constitutional Convention, which reconvenes next week, at which time proposed constitutional amendments banning gay marriage will be considered.

Ron Crews, spokesman for the Coalition for Marriage, said the state should not prematurely plan for same-sex marriage until all options to ban or postpone it have been exhausted. "We're still hopeful that the legislature is going to pass an amendment next week that will give the voters the opportunity to support marriage, and that will give momentum for the governor to take some steps to ensure that marriage in the state will remain defined as it always has," Crews said.

State officials are preparing forms with gender-appropriate language for same-sex couples who request marriage licenses, Hutchenrider said. They are scheduled to be available by May 17. "The state has an obligation to make this process as orderly for people as possible," said Mary Bonauto, the attorney who represented seven same-sex couples in a case before the supreme judicial court. "Certainly some folks are looking forward to getting married a great deal, and you'd hate to have it ruined in any way because of paperwork."

A 1913 state law prohibits clerks from issuing marriage licenses to couples whose marriage would be void if contracted in their home state, but Bonauto said that law allows other states to discriminate. No state allows gay marriage, and 39 states have "defense of marriage" laws prohibiting gay marriages.

In Provincetown, the town clerk's office has received inquiries from 45 same-sex couples seeking to get married on May 17, and the office has begun to schedule appointments for couples to apply for licenses that day.

On Thursday high court chief justice Margaret Marshall spoke in Lowell at a forum sponsored by Middlesex Community College, but she said judicial canons prohibited her from commenting on active cases, such as the landmark rulings on gay marriage. The high court ruled November 18 that it is unconstitutional to bar gay couples from marriage, and the court clarified that ruling on February 4 by saying only full, equal marriage rights for gay couples--rather than limited rights afforded by civil unions--are constitutional. "It must be absolutely driving all of you crazy with respect to so engaging an issue," she told the audience at the Doubletree Hotel in Lowell.

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