Saturday, 2:15 PM
By Eric Moskowitz and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff
The House today voted 118 to 35 to repeal a 1913 state law that prevents gay and lesbian couples from most other states from marrying in Massachusetts.
The measure, which the Senate passed earlier this month, will head to the desk of Governor Deval Patrick, who is expected to sign it into law. The move will clear the way for out-of-state couples to marry in Massachusetts, making it the second state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry regardless of their place of residence.
"I'm glad that we finally did it," said Representative Byron Rushing, a Boston Democrat, who described the repeal on the House floor as a "question of fairness and … a question of equality."
After the vote, Rushing said he hoped lawmakers or the governor would add an emergency preamble to the bill to speed its effect and allow for September weddings.
Unlike the Senate, which quickly voted to repeal the law on a unanimous voice vote, the House debated the bill for about 45 minutes.
Supporters of the repeal called the law archaic and rooted in racism, urging fellow lawmakers to strip it from the books in the interest of equality. Repeal opponents argued for keeping the law in deference to other states, to prevent legal tangles involving couples who would marry in Massachusetts and want rights in states where gay marriage is outlawed.
"Any marriage has three willing partners: the two willing [spouses] and an approving state," said Representative John A. Lepper, an Attleboro Republican who spoke against the repeal.
Lepper said striking the law from the books could create a legal limbo for same-sex couples from out of state. He pointed to a Rhode Island couple as an example, saying they could not now seek a divorce because their home state did not recognize their marriage. "It seems if the 1913 law is repealed we would be leading ourselves into a legal nightmare," Lepper said.
The bill has also drawn condemnation from opponents of same-sex marriage, including Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and the state's three other Catholic bishops. O'Malley and the bishops want the 1913 law kept on the books for constitutional, religious, and cultural reasons. They said eliminating the law would infringe on the rights of other states to set their own marriage laws.
Overall there was relative quiet surrounding the State House during the debate. Sponsors said that was evidence that same-sex marriage has become much less divisive in Massachusetts since it was first permitted in May 2004, following a 2003 decision by the state's Supreme Judicial Court.
“This is a true victory for equality,” said Marc Solomon, Executive Director of MassEquality, in a statement. “In repealing this law we’ve sent the message loud and clear that in Massachusetts, we respect and honor all families. We’ve ridded our state laws of the last vestige of discrimination against same-sex couples, and we once again lead the way for equality for all people.”
The 1913 law grew out of the national backlash over the interracial marriage of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, Rushing said today during the debate. 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."
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