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CITIES AND TOWNS

Cambridge poised to issue licenses amid controversy

Defying warnings from the Romney administration, Cambridge appears ready to sanction gay marriages, opening the door for same-sex marriage licenses as early as Tuesday.

With a gay-marriage measure gaining support for approval at Monday night's City Council meeting, state officials including Governor Mitt Romney warned the state would refuse to honor gay marriages before the end of the 180-day period specified in Tuesday's landmark ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court.

"The state has informed the clerks in our various clerks' offices around the Commonwealth that, given the stay of the implementation of the supreme court's decision, a 180-day stay, that they are not to proceed with issuing marriage licenses at this time," Romney said yesterday.

Other cities and towns heeded the warning, saying they will wait for the end of the 180-day period. In Provincetown, where 701 gay couples have registered in a town database since 1993, 25 gay residents have asked to marry since Tuesday. Assistant Town Clerk Aaron Leventman said same-sex couples remain ineligible for marriage licenses.

The town, which has a large gay population, attracts 20,000 summer residents. And the town clerk's office is expecting a deluge of applicants in six months.

"We've been getting calls from people asking if they can get married today," he said. "People from all over the country will come here to get married. It has the reputation of being a gay mecca."

Cambridge officials said that if the council approves the measure as expected, they will proceed, immediately granting local marriage benefits to gay couples.

"If they [councilors] want to see marriage licenses issued to gay couples as soon as possible, it would be my job to facilitate that," said City Clerk Margaret Drury.

Romney said that if Cambridge moves ahead, the state Department of Public Health would refuse to "recognize a marriage that was performed without being done within the bounds of the law."

Without recognition from the state, gay marriages in Cambridge before the end of the 180-day period would be largely symbolic, though Cambridge employees would be able to extend benefits to spouses and children, and others would gain rights such as the ability to speak for spouses if they are incapacitated in a Cambridge hospital.

It remained unclear yesterday whether those marriages would be honored anywhere but in Cambridge or whether the state could put a halt to Cambridge's plans. Some legal specialists said the attorney general could seek an injunction to stop the city clerk from issuing licenses.

"A marriage is not defined by municipal jurisdiction; there's no such thing," said Mark Mason, chairman of the Same Gender Task Force for the Massachusetts Bar Association. "The city clerk is the agent of the state and should act in accordance with state law. There's a question as to whether or not that marriage license is valid."

Still, Cambridge city councilors lining up to cosponsor the measure said the city should seize the historic opportunity.

"It could be a big moment for the city," said City Councilor Denise Simmons, who is openly gay and submitted the resolution along with another councilor, Brian Murphy, moments after the court's decision on Tuesday.

Yesterday, two more councilors, Kenneth E. Reeves and Marjorie C. Decker, signed on as sponsors. Decker and Simmons said they believe the five votes needed to pass the nine-member body are lined up for Monday.

The actions of the city councillors in Cambridge were in sharp contrast to most Massachusetts municipalities, where some railed against Cambridge's plans.

Linda E. Hutchenrider, president of the Massachusetts Town Clerks' Association, admonished Cambridge policy makers in an e-mail to 351 clerks yesterday.

"I'm sure their council is getting pressured by whatever group to do something," she said in an interview. "I think this is totally unwise."

No other city or town has announced pending policy changes, including the five municipalities -- Newton, Orleans, Northbridge, Northampton, and Boston -- which produced plaintiffs in the SJC lawsuit.

"It is business as usual until the 180 days are up," said city clerk Edward G. English of Newton.

City Councilor Maura Hennigan of Boston called for a hearing yesterday to determine if the city needed to change its marriage policies. She said Boston should wait the 180 days before authorizing same-sex weddings.

Globe correspondent Sasha Talcott contributed to this report. Benjamin Gedan can be reached at gedan@globe.com.

Ross Ozer and his partner, Scott Gortikov Ross Ozer (left) and his partner, Scott Gortikov, took their 18-month-old son, Sam Ozer-Gortikov, to a celebration of the court ruling at the Old South Meeting House. Gortikov proposed marriage to Ozer after hearing of the decision. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)
Dan Avila and Maria Parker Dan Avila and Maria Parker of the Mass. Catholic Conference denounced the ruling. (Reuters Photo)
Text of the decision
Gay population
The 2000 Census estimated there were about 19,000 gay couples in Mass., and about 659,000 nationwide, or less than 1 percent of households. Provincetown is the community in Mass. with the highest rate of gay partners, about 15 percent of households.
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