The state Senate voted swiftly and unanimously yesterday to strike down a 95-year-old law that blocks gay and lesbian couples from most other states from being married in Massachusetts, drawing condemnation from Catholic Church leaders but delivering a victory for advocates who have fought for the repeal and who say that same-sex marriage has become an accepted part of the state's culture.
The atmosphere during Senate deliberations lacked most of the drama of previous Beacon Hill debates over gay marriage. There were no chanting protesters outside, and not a voice on the Senate floor was raised against the repeal.
Advocates of same-sex marriage rights are hopeful the repeal will pass the House and be signed by Governor Deval Patrick before the end of the month. If that happens, the last obstacle to same-sex marriage in Massachusetts for nonresidents would be removed, making the state the second to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry regardless of their place of residence.
Sponsors said the relative quiet surrounding the State House debate 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.
"People have become resigned to the fact that all the chaos that was predicted in 2004 - the sky was going to fall, it would be catastrophic - it never happened. And so it has become, as we expected it would, as much a part of the reality of life in Massachusetts as anything else," Senator Dianne Wilkerson, a Roxbury Democrat who has championed the repeal bill, said of yesterday's vote.
Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston joined with the state's three other Catholic bishops in appealing to lawmakers to keep the 1913 law 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, and they emphasized their commitment to the traditional definition of marriage.
"Today, we reiterate our belief that marriage is a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of a man and a woman joined in an intimate community of love and life," the bishops said in a joint statement. "Across times, cultures, and many different religious beliefs, marriage between a man and a woman is the foundation of the family and society. Marriage is a personal relationship with public significance."
The 1913 law has racist roots. It grew out of the national backlash over the interracial marriage of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, Wilkerson said. 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.
"This is a very simple law, contrived in shame, and it exists in shame, and we ought to wipe it off the books," state Senator Mark C. Montigny said.
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."
It was not immediately clear yesterday when the House will consider the bill. Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi supports repealing the law by the end of this session, which closes formally July 31, a DiMasi spokesman said yesterday. The repeal bill can go directly to the House floor without first needing review by a House committee, spokesman David Guarino said in an e-mail.
Arline Isaacson, cochairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, predicted that the House would pass the measure but that some lawmakers would vote against it there.
Kris Mineau, who has lobbied against the repeal as president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said he hopes the House will deliberate at greater length on the bill and consider the "legal quagmire" that could result for other states if their residents flock to Massachusetts to marry.
After the Senate vote, Mineau vowed to keep working against the repeal and to try to limit marriage to heterosexual couples.
"We're going to be here until the cows go home," he said. "We're going to continue to advocate what we believe is right and what is in the best interest of our society and our children, and when the time comes that this Legislature starts waking up to reality, our voice will be there."
Advocates of unrestricted same-sex marriage have described the possible economic benefits for the state. A recent study commissioned by the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development predicted that Massachusetts would receive $111 million in wedding and travel spending and $5 million in taxes and marriage-license fees in the first three years.
The same nonprofit institute that prepared that estimate calculated that California, as a result of a May court decision legalizing gay marriage there regardless of residency, would reap nearly $700 million in same-sex wedding travel and tourism.
Along those lines, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger invited same-sex couples two months ago to visit California and bolster its tourism economy.
Many New York couples have been planning trips to California to get married, now that Governor David Paterson has directed all state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states, said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda, a statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy organization in New York.
But those trips could be rerouted if lawmakers in Massachusetts repeal the 1913 law, he said. "There will be a lot of
Eric Moskowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.