Pataki Mum on Mass. Marriage

Romney seeks to prevent Mass. from becoming a gay marriage mecca

Two weeks after receiving a letter that Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney sent to the nation’s governors and attorneys general, Gov. George Pataki and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer continue to maintain their public silence about whether New York State laws permit same-sex couples to marry. New York gay and lesbian activists are lobbying Spitzer, a Democrat who supports the right of gay couples to marry, to answer Romney that New York same-sex couples, who go to the Bay State to marry when it becomes legal on May 17, would be recognized as spouses by New York.

“It is our view that same-sex marriage is not permitted under the laws of any other state in the nation, including yours,” Romney, a Republican, wrote in his letter to fellow state officials. Since the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled last November that same-sex couples had the right to marriage, Romney has attempted to forestall the upcoming issuance of marriage licenses to gays and lesbians. “Unless we receive an authoritative statement to the contrary from you or your representative,” Romney’s April 29 letter continued, “the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will not issue a Massachusetts marriage license to same-sex couples from your state.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly, a democrat who opposes same-sex marriage, had said weeks ago that only those gay couples from the eleven states, including New York, that do not expressly forbid same-sex marriage could marry in Massachusetts. However, Romney, whom some political observers say has ambitions for national office, wants marriages performed only for gay couples residing or planning to reside in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts’ decision to marry gays and lesbians this month, along with Vermont’s establishment of civil unions in 2000, makes two states bordering New York which legally recognize same-sex couples.

Romney invoked an obscure 1913 state law meant to prevent biracial couples living in states prohibiting miscegenation from coming to Massachusetts to marry.

Attorney Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry, recently named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world said that ultimately, town clerks who issue marriage licenses, will look past the precedence set by the 1913 law because of its inherent discrimination. “I believe that many clerks will not be party to this effort to resurrect a discriminatory relic of our nation’s past discrimination against interracial marriage. Couples will marry and people will see that the sky doesn’t fall, which is exactly what Romney and others are most afraid of,” said Wolfson, who noted that the 1913 law “has not been enforced for more than 90 years.”

In New York, only marriages that are incestuous, multiple, or involve an underage partner are technically “void.” Same-sex marriages have never been listed among those marriages that are void, though some states do specifically void them.

Pataki, a Republican, has said on various occasions that he opposes same-sex marriage. Spitzer supports such marriages, despite a legal opinion he issued in March stating that New York’s marriage law doesn’t recognize the rights of gays to marry. However, Spitzer also said that New York was obligated to recognize legal same-sex marriages performed elsewhere because our state has always recognized certain marriages (such as common law ones) not performed in New York. Aside from that, recent legal decisions in state court indicate an emerging recognition that New York couples who obtained civil unions in Vermont may be treated as spouses under New York law.

Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said that he expected Spitzer to validate the marriages of gay New Yorkers wed in Massachusetts. “We are very hopeful the attorney general will respond to Gov. Romney’s request with a straightforward statement,” said Foreman.

Larry Moss, an attorney, who is a Manhattan Democratic district leader, said, that ultimately the matter will be resolved in a state court, not by rulings promulgated by elected officials such as Spitzer. “The interpretation of New York matrimonial law on this point must still be made by our courts, and it is an open question whether our courts will ultimately conclude that such marriages are barred under current law or are in fact permitted under current law.”

Nevertheless, New York activists are trying to coordinate their lobbying of Spitzer. Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, said, “I’ve begun to have some conversation with the attorney general about it and am looking forward to working with Lambda Legal, the ACLU, NGLTF and other organizations to craft a unified request to him about how we would like him to respond.”

Officials in Pataki’s and Spitzer’s offices did not return several calls seeking their comments.

Late this week, under pressure from Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and town clerks who oppose more stringent residency documentation, legal advisers in Romney’s office said that town clerks could rely on a standard affidavit establishing residency. Romney had wanted clerks to demand that gay couples produce Massachusetts’ leases, utility bills, and driver’s licenses before receiving marriage licenses.

Mary Bonauto, an attorney with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, a New England advocacy group, told the New York Times, “We would never counsel someone to say they do reside in Massachusetts or intend to reside in Massachusetts if they don’t.” But, she added, “I don’t think Massachusetts has any basis under our equality principles for enforcing discriminatory laws against other states.” Bonauto successfully argued the same-sex marriage case before the Massachusetts high court.

Elsewhere, Connecticut’s attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said he would respond to Romney’s letter by mid-May, just before gay couples will be able to marry in Massachusetts.

A spokesperson for Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, said he would not answer Romney on this issue because Romney does not have “the authority to ask other states to offer legal opinions on how marriage policy is carried out in Massachusetts,” the Boston Globe reported.

In New Hampshire, the House and Senate are hammering out differences in a new law to ban recognition of same-sex marriages legalized elsewhere. New Hampshire already has a law banning same-sex marriage.

Back in Massachusetts, various groups are preparing for the historic moment coming on May 17. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center said it would drop domestic partner benefits after that date, a mixed blessing of sorts to those gay and lesbian employees not seeking to marry. The medical center said the benefits plans were only instituted because gay couples couldn’t marry. Harvard University said it will continue providing domestic partner benefits. A spokesperson for the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Boston told the Associated Press, “We wouldn’t recognize the marriage; we obviously don’t think we should have to cover it. The question is, how does that play out in terms of law.”

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