Thursday, 4:30 PM
SJC upholds law barring out-of-state gay couples from marriage
By Jonathan Saltzman, Globe Staff
In an eagerly awaited landmark decision, the state's highest court ruled today that Governor Mitt Romney and Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly had the authority to invoke a 1913 state law that Massachusetts used to block out-of-state gay couples from marrying here when same-sex marriage became legal in 2004.
The Supreme Judicial Court upheld the 1913 law when it was used to block same sex-couples from Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, because gay marriage is prohibited in those states.
The court, however, did not rule on the claims of the couples from New York and Rhode Island because state laws there are unclear about whether same-sex marriage is barred. The court sent the case back to Superior Court Judge Carol Ball, who upheld the 1913 law that was appealed, to determine on an "expedited basis" when same-sex marriage is legal in those two states.
"We see it as a mixed decision," said Carissa Cunningham, a spokeswoman for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which represented the couples before the court. "They’re leaving the door open on Rhode Island and Vermont."
The Supreme Judicial Court said the state did not overstep its bounds, though a lawyer for eight lesbian and gay couples from outside Massachusetts had argued in October that the officials had dusted off a 48-word law that had "sat on the shelf unused for decades" in a blatantly discriminatory and unconstitutional ploy.
The law, whose constitutionality was defended before the court by Reilly's attorneys, says Massachusetts cannot marry an out-of-state couple if their marriage would be void in their home state. Romney had said he did not want Massachusetts to become the "Las Vegas of same-sex marriage."
To read the decision, go to the SJC website, click on opinions and then click on Sandra COTE-WHITACRE & others vs. DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH & others