The Democrat-controlled Massachusetts senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to repeal the 1913 statute that Gov. Mitt Romney is using to bar out-of-state gay couples from marrying in Massachusetts.
The statute, which the liberal-leaning senate opposed by a 28-3 margin, bars nonresidents from marrying in Massachusetts if their union would not be legal in their home state. Because no other state allows gay marriage, Romney argues that out-of-state couples are prohibited from marrying in Massachusetts.
The repeal was approved as part of the senate's version of the state budget. For the law to be wiped from the books, it will have to be adopted by budget negotiators in the far more conservative house, then survive a certain veto by Romney. House speaker Thomas Finneran, who opposes gay marriage, said Wednesday that he did not believe the house would approve the repeal as part of the compromise budget, which must be voted up or down without amendment.
Sen. Jarrett Barrios, a gay lawmaker who sponsored the budget amendment, noted the 81-year-old law's origins as a way to block the recognition of interracial marriage, adding that it has not been enforced in Massachusetts for years. "It was clear there was a large majority offended by the racist nature of the statute, that it has never been enforced in the last 40 years, and that it was inappropriately being used to discriminate against some families in the commonwealth," Barrios said.
Senate minority leader Brian Lees supported the repeal but said Romney is just doing his job. "The governor is enforcing the law that is on the books," Lees said. "I happen to think it's archaic too."
Romney's communications director, Eric Fehrnstrom, said the senate vote to repeal the 1913 law reaffirms "what has been obvious to us all along. This law is not Governor Romney's invention. This is the law of the land, and the governor cannot pick and choose which laws to enforce."
After several unsuccessful attempts to delay Monday's court-ordered legalization of gay marriage, Romney informed city and town clerks that the 1913 statute barred them from issuing marriage licenses to out-of-state residents who have no plans to move to Massachusetts. 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.
In Provincetown, a gay tourism hot spot at Cape Cod's tip, 28% of the 152 same-sex couples who submitted marriage applications on Monday were nonresidents. Romney has said that any licenses issued to nonresidents who have no firm plans of moving to Massachusetts will be deemed null and void. He also threatened legal action against clerks who knowingly defied his residency edict.