Provincetown Life Information
Amy Zimmerman and Tanya Wexler knew their 6-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter wouldn’t sit still for details about a high court ruling on the legality of their marriage, so they agreed to give the news with a simple thumbs up or down.
It wasn’t that easy.
“I said, ‘OK guys, looks like it’s a thumbs sideways,”’ Wexler said.
The Supreme Judicial Court, which in 2003 made Massachusetts the first state to legalize gay marriage, on Thursday upheld a 1913 state law that forbids nonresidents from marrying in Massachusetts if their marriage would not be recognized in their home state.
The decision was a disappointment for gay rights groups, and left uncertainty for Zimmerman and Wexler, who are from New York.
The court sent their case, and the case of a couple from Rhode Island, back to a lower court, saying it was unclear whether their home states prohibit same-sex marriage.
Gay marriage advocates said the ruling means couples from states where gay marriage isn’t explicitly banned can argue for their marriages to be recognized in Massachusetts. Zimmerman said she wasn’t sure what it means.
“We do consider ourselves still married,” Zimmerman, 33. “There is a limbo element to it.”
Eight gay couples from surrounding states, including two from Connecticut, had challenged the law in a case watched closely across the country. Five of those eight couples actually received marriage licenses in Massachusetts before the governor ordered the 1913 law be enforced.
In Thursday’s ruling, Justice Francis Spina wrote Massachusetts “has a significant interest in not meddling in matters in which another state, the one where a couple actually resides, has a paramount interest.”
The state “can reasonably believe that nonresident same-sex couples primarily are coming to this commonwealth to marry because they want to evade the marriage laws of their home states, and that Massachusetts should not be encouraging such evasion.”
Gov. Mitt Romney applauded the ruling.
“We don’t want Massachusetts to become the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage,” Romney said. “It’s important that other states have the right to make their own determination of marriage and not follow the wrong course that our Supreme Judicial Court put us on.”
Arline Isaacson of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus called the decision “a painful reminder that we remain second-class citizens.”
“It’s painful to know you’ll be treated equally under the law if and only if you happen to live here,” she said. “Otherwise, you are completely unequal as a gay person.”
In oral arguments before the high court in October, a lawyer for the couples argued that the 1913 law had been unused for decades, until it was “dusted off” by Romney in an attempt to discriminate against same-sex couples.
Romney ordered city and town clerks to enforce that law after the first same-sex marriages were performed in Massachusetts in May 2004.
Attorneys for the state argued that Massachusetts risked a backlash if it ignored the laws of other states by letting same-sex couples marry here when their own states prohibited such unions.
Attorney General Thomas Reilly said he agreed with the court’s decision.
“What the court did today is really to recognize that it’s up to each state to decide what their laws will be,” he said. “This decision does not impact in any way Massachusetts citizens.”
Reilly said the legality of the marriages of out-of-state couples who did get licenses would have to be determined in their home states on a case-by-case basis.
Michele Granda, an attorney for the couples, said couples from states where same-sex marriage isn’t explicitly prohibited can now argue their states wouldn’t prohibit their marriages in Massachusetts.
“The court identified two states where (same-sex) marriage is an option, but there may be more,” she said.
New York’s top officials have said same-sex marriage is illegal in the state, although that interpretation of state law is being challenged. The New York Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments on the legality of same-sex marriage on May 31.
According to the Department of Vital Statistics, 7,341 gay couples have tied the knot in Massachusetts since the court ruled in 2003 that the state Constitution gives same-sex couples the same right to marry as heterosexual couples. The state does not track how many out of state couples were given licenses in Massachusetts.
Opponents of gay marriage are working to put a question on the November 2008 ballot that would define marriage as only between a man and a woman. The question has gathered the required signatures from registered voter and now needs legislative approval to be placed on the ballot.
Christopher McCary and John Sullivan, one of the first gay couples married in the state, said they still consider themselves married, even if Thursday’s ruling means they’re just two guys living in the same house in Alabama.
“It really doesn’t change anything,” said McCary, an attorney in Anniston, Ala. “We’re like everybody else. He has two jobs, I have one and we both work all the time.”
The state of Alabama does not recognize their union.
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