The Massachusetts attorney general said Friday that he has warned clerks in four communities to stop issuing marriage licenses to out-of-state gay couples. "Let me make it very clear here: If there are violations of the law, the law will be enforced," Thomas Reilly said. Officials in Provincetown, Somerville, Springfield, and Worcester have openly defied Gov. Mitt Romney's order not to let nonresident same-sex couples marry. Acting on a request from the governor, Reilly sent letters to the clerks. He said he shares Romney's interpretation of a 1913 Massachusetts law barring couples from marrying in Massachusetts if their union would not be recognized in their home state.
Reilly declined to say what action he would take against the clerks, but legal experts said he could seek a court injunction ordering clerks to stop issuing licenses. If they continue, he could charge them with contempt or with a criminal violation. But the attorney general said he could not imagine putting any clerks in jail. "We expect the clerks to respect the law," he said a day after Romney sent him 10 marriage applications filed by out-of-state couples. Like the Republican governor, Reilly said that all marriage licenses issued to out-of-state couples will be considered invalid.
Springfield clerk William Metzger said Thursday he would stop issuing licenses if Reilly, the state's chief law enforcement officer, agreed with Romney's interpretation of the law. In each of the communities of Provincetown, Somerville, Springfield, and Worcester clerks have issued licenses to out-of-state gay couples as long as they sign a form stating that they know of no impediment to their marriage.
Gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts on May 17 under a landmark ruling by the state's highest court. Reilly, a Democrat, had previously said only residents of the 39 states that have passed Defense of Marriage Acts would be forbidden from marrying in Massachusetts. But on Friday he said he agreed with Romney's interpretation that the law bans all out-of-state unions.
Advocates of gay marriage criticized Reilly's decision. "It's infuriating that Reilly is enabling this bad behavior by Romney," said Arline Isaacson, cochair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. "It's astonishing that Reilly would waste his time and taxpayer dollars on helping Romney conduct a witch hunt against gay couples."