As Massachusetts officials warned city and town clerks not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples until after a court-ordered six-month delay, officials in at least one city pressed ahead Wednesday with a plan to begin issuing the licenses right away. Following Tuesday's gay marriage ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court, the Department of Public Health sent a memo to clerks reminding them that the
decision does not take effect for 180 days and ordered them to "maintain the status quo" until then.
But two city councilors in Cambridge, one of the state's most liberal communities, said they would push the clerk there to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as next week. The council is scheduled to vote Monday night on an order that would authorize the city clerk to issue licenses to gay couples immediately, despite the 180-day stay. If successful, the resolution could set up a legal battle with the court and the public health department, which administers the state's marriage laws.
"It's very clear that the court has found that there is a fundamental right to marry under the Massachusetts constitution," said Councilor Brian Murphy, a cosponsor of the measure. "Given that, how can you deny someone the right to marry? I'm hard-pressed to see how or why they would be denied the right to do this."
A lawyer for the seven gay couples who filed the landmark lawsuit in 2001 has said they would not press for marriage licenses before the 180-day deadline, in mid May of next year.
Gov. Mitt Romney said Wednesday that the state would not recognize any marriage licenses issued during the 180-day period, which the court set aside to allow the legislature to do what it "deems appropriate."
"It would be contrary to their decision to act prior to that period," Romney said. "The state would not recognize a marriage that was performed without being done within the bounds of law."
If Cambridge were to approve the order, despite the Department of Public Health edict, it could lead to the issuance of the first gay marriage licenses as early as next Tuesday and a likely legal battle over whether these are valid. "We in the gay rights community are steadfast in what we see as a victory for us, and we will move forward until justice is really won here," said Councilor E. Denise Simmons, a cosponsor of the order. "It looks like the battle is on."