Boston won't offer licenses to out-of-state gay couples

BY admin

May 13 2004 11:00 PM ET

Boston will not offer marriage licenses to out-of-state couples, a decision that adds to the confusing patchwork of rules less than a week before same-sex marriage becomes legal in Massachusetts. The city's chief lawyer, Merita Hopkins, issued a statement Wednesday saying Boston will accept marriage applications "from everyone except partners who do not reside in Massachusetts, and neither one of which intends to reside in Massachusetts." However, officials said that the city, the largest in the state of Massachusetts, would not require proof of residency. Instead, couples would be required to fill
out a form saying they plan to move to Massachusetts and then sign the form under penalty of perjury.

The move apparently falls in line with Gov. Mitt Romney's efforts to limit same-sex unions by making them illegal for nonresidents as per a 1913 state law, although communities across the state are divided on the residency issue. So far, officials in Worcester, Provincetown, and the Boston suburb of Somerville have said they will issue licenses to out-of-state couples. But officials in Cambridge and Northampton, a western Massachusetts city with a large gay population, said they would adhere to Romney's guidelines. The Massachusetts high court last November decided that a ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. In its ruling, the court said city and town clerks could begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples on May 17.

Although officials in several cities and towns across the country have granted marriage licenses to gay couples since the ruling, Massachusetts will become the first state in the country to officially sanction gay marriage. Since the ruling, the state legislature has given preliminary approval to a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage and legalize civil unions, but voters will not get to weigh in on the proposal until November 2006. Meanwhile, the Episcopal diocese of Massachusetts, headed by three bishops who support gay marriage, said it would nonetheless bar clergy from performing gay or lesbian weddings. The diocese cited restrictive language in the canons and prayerbook of the church. Several other denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA), have asked clergy not to officiate at same-sex marriages. The Unitarian Universalist Association has endorsed same-sex unions, and other denominations, such as the United Church of Christ, have left the decision to individual clergy members.

Romney has stated that a 1913 state law prohibits couples from marrying in Massachusetts if their marriage would not be legal in their home state. No other state recognizes same-sex marriage. A spokesman for Romney declined to comment on Boston's decision. Romney has in the past threatened legal action against city and town clerks statewide who defy his interpretation of the law. Boston's move came as conservative groups asked a federal judge for an injunction on the decision permitting marriage licenses to be issued to same-sex couples. "It's an unusual time that we live in, and we're asking this court to intervene to prevent this constitutional train wreck," said Mathew Staver, president and general counsel of the Florida-based Liberty Counsel. The judge said he would issue a decision Thursday afternoon or Friday morning. Both sides said they would appeal if they lost.

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