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Weld supports gay marriage ruling

William F. Weld, the former governor whose early advocacy of gay rights frequently put him at odds with his Republican colleagues, yesterday gave a strong endorsement to the Supreme Judicial Court's legalization of gay marriage and said he may officiate at a wedding after the ruling goes into effect.

"It is a thunderbolt, but a thunderbolt correctly heard," Weld told the Globe in an interview yesterday from his New York office, where he operates an investment firm.

Weld said the court has clearly mandated that the state must issue marriage licenses and allowed no wiggle room. That is in sharp contrast to Governor Mitt Romney and Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, who have suggested the ruling leaves room to create a separate, civil union-type of system that provides equal benefits and protections for same-sex couples.

"It's all over," said Weld, who read the opinion in detail yesterday. Weld appointed Justice Margaret H. Marshall, who wrote the majority opinion in the 4-3 decision, to the court in 1996. She was elevated to chief justice by Paul Cellucci, Weld's successor in the corner office.

Weld said he may perform the marriage ceremony for a gay couple when the ruling becomes law. The court stayed its ruling for six months, saying it was allowing the Legislature time to adjust its current marriage laws to conform to its opinion.

"I may well officiate at a same-sex marriage next year, after the Legislature has a chance to pass an enabling statute," Weld said.

In order to officiate, Weld would have to be granted a special license by Romney, a fellow Republican who opposes gay marriage. Romney and gay marriage opponents want to amend the state constitution so that marriage is explicitly defined as being only between a man and a woman.

That amendment, if it were to be approved by a majority of the 200 legislators meeting as a constitutional convention in two consecutive legislative sessions, could not be on the ballot before November 2006 -- 2 1/2 years after the court's ruling takes effect.

As governor from 1991 to mid-1997, Weld broke new ground on the issue of gay rights with executive orders providing benefits and protections for state workers. His domestic-partner orders provided equal treatment for such things as hospital visitations and bereavement leave for gay state workers. He also expanded hate crimes and housing antidiscrimination laws to include gays.

Weld also formed the Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, signed a pioneering gay student rights bill, and supported state funding to train human service agencies to deal with gay teenagers.

"A lot of the stuff we did foreshadowed the opinion," said Weld, 58.

Weld also appointed senior staff and top department heads who were the first openly gay state officials. They included a prominent gay couple -- his chief of staff, Kevin Smith, and the commissioner of revenue, Mitchell Adams. He also appointed openly gay people to judgeships.

Nationally, Weld pushed for a "big-tent" Republicanism that does not exclude gays. That position and his strong stand in favor of abortion rights earned him angry denunciations from conservatives in his party, including a round of heckling and booing when he addressed the 1992 national GOP convention. As a candidate in 1990, he was roundly booed at the state Republican convention, with yells of "baby killer."

Weld said that the courts -- not the political arena -- were the only place that could generate the ground-breaking gay marriage development. He said he had become convinced of the argument for gay marriages early in his tenure as governor, but did not publicly advocate for it because the political process was not going to accept the concept.

"You weren't going to get there through the Legislature or the executive branch," Weld said. Referring to the US Supeme Court's rulings in the 1950s and 1960s, he said, "It reminds me of some of the early civil rights cases, when the Warren Court all but said, somebody has to do this."

Reilly and others -- including SJC Justice Robert Cordy, Weld's former legal counsel at the State House who wrote a dissenting opinion in the case -- argue that such a social policy change must come from the Legislature and not the courts. They argued that the decision should be made by lawmakers elected by the people.

When a court in Hawaii legalized gay marriage in 1996, Weld argued that Massachusetts was legally obligated to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. But he stopped short of endorsing a new state law legalizing gay unions in Massachusetts.

"I'm not sure public opinion is ready for that, quitely frankly," Weld said at the time. The Hawaii Legislature quickly changed the state constitution, invalidating the court ruling.

But privately, Weld had developed his own views on the subject. He said he had come to see what he felt was the validity of the argument for same-sex couples in the early 1990s when he met privately with an early and influential proponent, Andrew Sullivan, the former editor of the New Republic.

"He made a convincing, logical case: Society should endorse gay marraige as a way of saying put up or shut up," Weld said. "Ulitmately, that is logical and correct."

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