Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's administration on Tuesday demanded copies of all marriage-license applications filled out by gay couples in Provincetown and three other cities that openly defied the governor's residency requirement for same-sex marriages. The request may signal the next front in the legal battle over same-sex marriage.
Romney, a Republican who opposes gay marriage, previously said he would declare any licenses issued to out-of-state gay couples void, and he threatened unspecified legal action against any clerks who issued them.
On Monday, clerks in Provincetown, Worcester, Springfield, and Somerville accepted marriage license applications from out-of-state couples, just as they had announced they would do. "They've singled out only the select few that announced a policy contrary to the governor's interpretation," Provincetown town manager Keith Bergman said. "This is the first step toward something, that's for sure."
Romney spokeswoman Shawn Feddeman would not comment on the demand for the documents but said, "Any marriages performed outside of the law are null and void under Massachusetts statutes."
The governor recently warned clerks to follow a 1913 state law that prohibits nonresidents from getting married in Massachusetts if their union would not be legal in their home state. Since no other state recognizes gay marriages, Romney said out-of-state gay couples who have no intention of moving to Massachusetts could not obtain marriage licenses.
But clerks in Provincetown, Worcester, Springfield, and Somerville said publicly that they would issue licenses to all comers, regardless of where they lived, as long as they signed a form attesting that there was no known legal impediment to their union. Out-of-state couples who exchanged vows in Massachusetts are certain to face legal battles for recognition in their home states--and perhaps in Massachusetts as well if Romney moves to nullify their marriages.
"It's America in 2004. I think legal action is guaranteed," said Kevin Cathcart, executive director of the gay rights group Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "It's going to take the legal system and the political system quite some time to work this all out."
The governor has made no public comment since marriage licenses began to be issued to same-sex couples on Monday.
"This is an unprecedented request in my 25 years of service. But I'm confident that I'm acting within the law," said Worcester city clerk David Rushford, who accepted license applications from 12 out-of-state gay couples.
Provincetown's Bergman said 28% of the 152 applications filed in the Cape Cod town Monday were from out of state. Officials in Springfield, Provincetown, and Worcester said they were complying with the administration's request for copies of the paperwork. Somerville officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.