Eight couples and 12 municipal clerks representing the next phase of the battle over gay marriage said Thursday they will mount a legal challenge to the 1913 Massachusetts law used to block out-of-state same-sex couples from marrying in the state. The groups said they would file two lawsuits in Suffolk superior court on Friday--Boston courts were closed Thursday for a county holiday--claiming the state law is unconstitutional and that it's discriminatory to enforce it against same-sex couples.
Gov. Mitt Romney and Atty. Gen. Tom Reilly cited the law--which says marriages by nonresidents will not be recognized if their union is not legal in their home state--in denying marriage licenses to out-of-state gay couples. After gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts last month, several city and
town clerks openly defied them and issued the documents to nonresidents anyway, until Reilly ordered them to stop or face penalties.
"The governor simply can't dust off this law to discriminate against gays and lesbians," Michelle Granda, a lawyer for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which represents the eight out-of-state couples, said at a news conference Thursday morning.
The state's supreme judicial court ruled last November that same-sex couples had a right under the Massachusetts constitution to marry, and it ordered that weddings begin taking place after May 17.
The eight plaintiff couples come from the five other New England states and New York. Some have already gotten married in Massachusetts, while others applied for licenses and were denied. Several have family roots in Massachusetts. "We have been married in everything except name. We want the peace of mind of marriage," said Sandi Cote-Whitacre of Essex Junction, Vt., who married Bobbi
Cote-Whitacre, her partner since 1967, in Provincetown on May 18.
Provincetown, the gay tourism mecca at the tip of Cape Cod, is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit filed by the 12 city and town clerks. The town's board of selectmen was among those that defied the governor by issuing licenses to nonresidents. Somerville, just north of Boston, was another. The city's mayor, Joseph Curtatone, said using the law to stop out-of-state gay couples from marrying was
"not only unconstitutional but simply outrageous."
"We've been out on the lead of this issue from the beginning because we want to treat people equally," Curtatone said. "We're confident we're on the right side of the law." Advocates say the segregation-era law has its roots in racism and should not be used to discriminate against gays. Heterosexual couples from out of state have been rarely, if ever, challenged over the past several decades, they say. "The principle of equality and liberty applies equally to nonresidents as it does to residents," Granda said.