Friday, September 29, 2006
By Michael Levenson, Globe Staff
In a significant victory for gay rights advocates, a Superior Court judge ruled today that a lesbian couple from Rhode Island may wed in Massachusetts, finding that Rhode Islandís laws do not explicitly prohibit same-sex marriages.
The ruling by Judge Thomas Connolly is the first to find that same-sex couples from outside Massachusetts may wed under the Supreme Judicial Court's 2003 ruling that legalized same-sex weddings in the Bay State.
Wendy Becker and Mary Norton of Providence, R.I., had argued in court that a 1913 law that forbids out-of-state residents from marrying in Massachusetts did not apply to them because Rhode Island does not specifically ban gay marriage.
In a 9-page ruling, Connolly agreed with the couple.
"No evidence was introduced before this court of a constitutional amendment, statute, or controlling appellate decision from Rhode Island that explicitly deems void or otherwise expressly forbids same-sex marriage," he wrote.
Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, who had defended the 1913 law in court, said officials in Rhode Island could challenge the decision, but said his office would not appeal.
"In Massachusetts," Reilly said in a statement, "pursuing this matter further in the courts would be a waste of time and resources."
Gay rights advocates hailed the decision.
"At last the fence of discrimination has been removed at the border of Massachusetts and Rhode Island," said Michele Granda, an attorney who represented Becker and Norton, in a statement. "Loving, committed, Rhode Island couples can now affirm their relationships in the most public and respected way our society knows."
Opponents of same-sex marriage, however, assailed the ruling.
"Once again, the citizens are the victims of having marriage redefined by a court instead of by the people," said Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute. "This creates a new level of legal chaos for regulators and lawmakers in the state of Rhode Island and any state that does not expressly forbid same sex marriage. It also furthers the notion of Massachusetts becoming the Las Vegas of gay marriage."
Eric Fehrnstrom, a spokesman for Governor Mitt Romney, echoed the same sentiment.
"The ruling is illogical, and I think Governor (Donald L.) Carcieri and the people of Rhode Island will be surprised to learn that gay marriage is permissible in their state," Fehrnstrom said in a written statement.
Fehrnstrom added: :We're reminded that the only sure way to protect traditional marriage is with a federal marriage amendment."
For the plaintiffs in today's case, however, the ruling was welcomed. Becker and Norton, partners for 19 years, and the parents of two children, said they planned to wed.
"After a very long engagement, we are thrilled to be able to marry and provide our family with the legal protection and social recognition we deserve," Becker said in a statement. "As the parents of two wonderful young children, our desire to marry has always been with them in mind. We want them to feel their family is as worthy as any other."