Gov. Mitt Romney took the first step toward blocking the marriages of out-of-state gay couples in Massachusetts by sending the attorney general records from 10 cases in which clerks across the state had accepted applications from nonresidents.
The Republican governor said he asked Democratic attorney general Thomas Reilly to "take whatever action he deems is appropriate" to remind town clerks to abide by his interpretation of the law, but Reilly made no prediction regarding what action he would take. "He has asked us to look at this material, and we will," Reilly said. "What we like to do is take a look at these matters first, before I issue any opinion."
Romney also said the Registry of Vital Statistics would not record the licenses of gay couples who don't live in Massachusetts and who have no intention of moving there--an action a gay rights attorney said could trigger a lawsuit.
"It is an aggressive move that denies the validity of a marriage," said attorney Mary Bonauto, who represented seven gay couples in the landmark lawsuit that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state. "Litigation is something we're going to look at very seriously."
The 10 couples cited by Romney submitted marriage applications in Provincetown and Springfield, two municipalities that defied the residency requirement. Worcester, another town that did not enforce the residency requirement for couples seeking marriage licenses, has yet to submit the records requested by Romney.
Romney, a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, said marriage licenses of out-of-state gay couples are not legal but that the state would take no action to track the couples down. The problem would arise, he said, if they tried to rely on their licenses to receive benefits in their home states. Reilly said the fate of out-of-state gay couples is not his top priority. "Our primary focus in the office is on the people who live in Massachusetts and reside in Massachusetts and to make sure their rights were protected," Reilly said, "and I'm satisfied those rights were protected."
Somerville mayor Joe Curtatone said Thursday that his city would continue to issue licenses to out-of-state couples despite Romney's directive. "Nothing about today's announcement will deter us from continuing to treat people fairly and equitably," Curtatone said. "Same-sex couples will not be treated any differently in Somerville than heterosexual couples are treated."
Romney's announcement came at his first public appearance since Monday, when Massachusetts became the first state in the country to allow same-sex couples to wed. At least 1,700 couples applied for marriage licenses on Monday, according to Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders. Romney is relying on a 1913 statute that forbids nonresidents from marrying in Massachusetts if the union would not be legal in their home state. Since no other state allows gay marriage, Romney argues, all out-of-state couples are prohibited from marrying in Massachusetts.
Town clerks in Provincetown, Springfield, Worcester, and Somerville merely asked out-of-state couples to attest that they knew of no impediment to their marriage. The state senate voted this week to repeal the 1913 law, but the repeal still has to be approved by the far more conservative house and then survive a certain veto by Romney.