Saturday, 2:15 PM
Governor signs law allowing out-of-state gays to wed
( David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
By Michael Levenson, Globe Staff
Surrounded by cheering, clapping gay-rights activists and legislators, Governor Deval Patrick today signed a bill repealing a 95-year-old statute that had prevented gay and lesbian couples from most other states from marrying in Massachusetts.
"It's a good day," said Patrick, declaring that the repeal will "confirm a simple truth: that is, in Massachusetts, equal means equal."
Massachusetts will "continue to lead the way as a national leader" and affirm "all people come before their government as equals," Patrick said in a bill-signing ceremony at the State House's Grand Staircase. Gay marriage "is still troubling for some of our citizens," he said, "but it is still the law."
Patrick, who turned 52 today, also called the bill "a great birthday present."
Marc Solomon, executive director of MassEquality, a gay-rights organization, said, "This is really a new day. We welcome everyone from New York to come here and get married. We think it's a shame people can't get married in their own states."
The repeal took effect immediately, making Massachusetts the second state after California to allow same-sex couples to marry, regardless of residence. It opened the borders for potentially thousands of nonresident same-sex couples. That includes an estimated 49,000 couples from New York, where Governor David Paterson has instructed state agencies to recognize and grant benefits to gay couples who marry elsewhere, even though the Empire State does not authorize same-sex marriages.
The law specifically barred out-of-state residents from marrying here if the marriage would be considered void in their home state. The origins of the law could be traced to the national backlash over the interracial marriage of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. At the time, 30 of 48 states banned interracial marriage, and many other states, including Massachusetts, enacted provisions that would keep interracial couples from crossing borders to marry in their jurisdiction.
The law remained on the books but fell into obscurity until gay marriage became legalized in Massachusetts, and Governor Mitt Romney cited the law as a means to prevent Massachusetts from becoming what he called "the Las Vegas of gay marriage."
Unlike past same-sex marriage debates, the repeal of the 1913 law did not draw protesters to the State House. Advocates cited the absence of demonstrations as a sign that same-sex marriage has become an accepted fact of life in Massachusetts, after lawmakers in a joint session last year rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to limit marriage to heterosexual couples.
The repeal passed swiftly in the Senate earlier this month on a unanimous voice vote. The House voted 118 to 35 to pass the repeal bill on Tuesday after a 45-minute floor debate.
Supporters called the 1913 law a vestige of racist opposition to interracial marriage, while opponents argued for keeping it in deference to the rights of other states to set marriage laws. Several representatives called for keeping the law on the books because they said it would create legal chaos for other states that would be forced to consider same-sex marriage or resolve disputes among couples who marry in Massachusetts but want benefits, or to divorce, back home.
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