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Massachusetts historically ignores marriage eligibility rules

Massachusetts historically ignores marriage eligibility rules

As Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney calls for the enforcement of a 1913 state law prohibiting town clerks from performing marriages that would be void in other states, Department of Public Health documents obtained by The Boston Globe show that the state's cities and towns have a track record of ignoring marriage eligibility regulations. Beginning May 17 clerks will face the prospect of dealing with out-of-state same-sex couples asking for a marriage license in accordance with a high court order last November. The public health documents show that the state repeatedly instructed the clerks to facilitate marriages rather than enforce laws that might prohibit them, such as the residency requirement. Some of the documents explicitly instruct clerks not to check on marriage applicants' legal status and residency. "The oath they take after filling out their intentions affirms that the information they've provided is true to the best of their knowledge," says a 1995 Health Department memo outlining general policies and procedures for granting marriage licenses across the state. "Otherwise, they will have committed perjury. However, it is not the clerk's job to prevent them from committing perjury. Your job is to assist them in getting married." Elsewhere, the document reads: "A clerk CANNOT AND MUST NOT question the citizenship or legal status of a marriage applicant," "DO NOT ROUTINELY ASK FOR BIRTH RECORDS OR OTHER PROOF OF AGE," and "DO NOT, HOWEVER, ASK FOR PROOF OF DIVORCE." A former Health Department registrar said the state was seeking to impose a uniform policy and did not want the clerks to be required to store and maintain a high volume of the paperwork required to prove couples were eligible for marriage licenses. But the release of the documents comes as Romney seeks to use the residency requirement to block marriages by out-of-state gay couples. Romney has reinstated the requirement that city and town clerks ask for proof of residency from marriage-license applicants. Eric Fehrnstrom, a Romney spokesman, said the governor cannot choose which laws to enforce or ignore. "I can't speak to what previous administrations have done or said, but I can tell you the [high court] decision changed everything," Fehrnstrom said. "It changed the definition of marriage, it changed the way the new marriage forms look, and it changed the way city and town clerks will carry out the requirements of the law. We intend to enforce the law."

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