Bowing to pressure from Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Provincetown officials decided Wednesday to stop issuing marriage licenses to out-of-state gay couples. Provincetown, a gay tourist spot on Cape Cod, was one of four communities that had openly defied Romney's order to refrain from issuing marriage licenses to nonresident gay couples when same-sex marriage became legal in the state on May 17.
Romney said such marriages are forbidden under a 1913 state law that bans all unions that would not be deemed legal in a couple's home state. The Republican governor also threatened unspecified legal action against clerks who went against his directive.
An attorney for Provincetown, Gretchen Van Ness, said the town is exploring its legal options, including a possible challenge of the 1913 law.
On the governor's instructions, Atty. Gen. Thomas Reilly, a Democrat, issued a cease-and-desist order to clerks in Provincetown, Somerville, Springfield, and Worcester last week. Provincetown was the last to stop issuing licenses to nonresidents. "We firmly believe that it is unlawful and unconstitutional to deny out-of-state same-sex couples the right to marry in Massachusetts," said Provincetown board of selectmen chairman Cheryl Andrews, who married her longtime partner last week.
Provincetown issued 217 marriage licenses to same-sex couples last week, 14 of them to out-of-state couples who did not state any intention to move to Massachusetts.
Somerville mayor Joseph Curtatone said Wednesday that his city would make a decision about how to proceed by Friday. He said Somerville could decide to resume issuing licenses, to pursue legal action, or both.
Romney's legal office has requested marriage documents from Attleboro and Fall River after clerks there acknowledged issuing licenses to out-of-state gay couples in defiance of the governor's residency requirement, the clerks said Thursday. Romney press secretary Shawn Feddeman would not comment on the request but said, "Anytime we find reason to believe there are blatant violations of the law, we will refer them to the attorney general's office." The governor warned clerks that the state would not recognize marriages by nonresident gay couples.
Both clerks said they planned to turn over the documents as requested. Reilly's office said Thursday that the governor's office had not yet referred the cases to the attorney general.