News Articles

Mass. court limits ‘gay marriage’ to in-state couples; ruling a win for conservatives

BOSTON (BP)–More than two years after handing down its controversial decision legalizing “gay marriage,” the highest court in Massachusetts ruled March 30 that a 1913 state law prevents out-of-state homosexual couples from obtaining marriage licenses if such documents would not be recognized in their home state.

The 6-1 decision by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court prevents couples from most, if not all, states from getting “married” in Massachusetts. The ruling is significant because it limits the ability of homosexual activists to spread “gay marriages” elsewhere.

“It basically ensures that Massachusetts will not impose its policy decisions on the rest of the country in regard to same-sex marriage,” Dale Schowengerdt, an attorney with the Alliance Defend Fund, told Baptist Press. ADF filed a legal brief supporting the state law.

“Nationally, [the decision is] huge because it means same-sex couples that reside in another state won’t be able to go to Massachusetts, get a marriage license and then export that back to their home state. It will alleviate a whole host of legal problems and challenges to other states’ laws.”

An in-state couple could still, though, get “married” in Massachusetts and move to another state and file suit. The suit was brought by homosexual couples from Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and Rhode Island.

The high court did leave the door open for a possible victory by the New York and Rhode Island couples, sending that case back to a lower court on an expedited basis. The high court said “gay marriage” in those states is not “expressly prohibited” and that the couples should be given the opportunity to make their case.

But, for the most part, the ruling was a loss for homosexual activists, who experienced a landmark victory in the same court in November 2003 when the justices made Massachusetts the first to legalize “gay marriage.” That 4-3 ruling, known as Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, took effect six months later in May 2004. During that month, homosexual couples from across the United States flocked to Massachusetts, hoping to become among the first same-sex couples in the nation to “marry.” Some clerks ignored the 1913 law and granted licenses. Others, though, didn’t.

Justice Francis X. Spina wrote, “The fact that this court concluded in the Goodridge case that there was no rational basis under the Massachusetts Constitution for denying Massachusetts same-sex couples the right to enter into civil marriages does not now compel a conclusion that nonresident same-sex couples, who have no intention of living in Massachusetts, have an identical right to secure a marriage license that they could not otherwise obtain in their home states.”

The 1913 law states, in part: “No marriage shall be contracted in this commonwealth by a party residing and intending to continue to reside in another jurisdiction if such marriage would be void if contracted in such other jurisdiction, and every marriage contracted in this commonwealth in violation hereof shall be null and void.” Another section of the law requires clerks to check and see if couples obtaining a license would be “prohibited from intermarrying” in their home state.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, and Attorney General Tom Reilly, a Democrat, used the law in May 2004 to prevent out-of-state couples from getting “married.” Eight homosexual couples and 13 municipal clerks subsequently sued, saying the law violated the due process and equal protection provisions of the Massachusetts constitution and the privileges and immunities clause of the U.S. Constitution. But the court disagreed.

“Simply put, given the enormity of the rights and responsibilities that accompany marriage, Massachusetts has a rational and substantial interest in ensuring that the marriages it creates will be recognized as valid outside its borders,” Spina wrote.

Even Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, who authored the 2003 “gay marriage” ruling, wrote, “Where, as here, the statute lays out clear, objective criteria for its enforcement that are not unconstitutional, we must uphold the statute on its own terms.”

The court was mostly united in the outcome but was splintered in the reasoning. There was no majority opinion, but only two concurring opinions. Two justices joined Spina’s opinion. Marshall’s opinion was joined by two justices, one of whom joined only in part and wrote a concurring opinion.

Marshall’s opinion is the one that addressed the issue of Rhode Island and New York couples. Same-sex couples, she argued, who come from states where “gay marriage” is “not expressly prohibited” by “statute, constitutional amendment, or controlling appellate court decision” should be allowed to “to present evidence to rebut the commonwealth’s claim that their home state would prohibit their marriage.” Although Marshall’s reasoning on this one issue was a silver lining for homosexual activists, it nonetheless helps conservatives in other states who are trying to make the case that constitutional marriage amendments are necessary.

“Rhode Island and New York don’t have clear definitions of marriage in their statutes or constitutions,” Schowengerdt said, adding that the ruling highlights the need for laws protecting traditional marriage.

While the court’s decision was a victory for social conservatives, they may not be celebrating very long. The highest courts in Washington state and New Jersey are set to issue rulings any day now, and conservatives fear that both courts will legalize “gay marriage.” A third high court, New York’s, will hear a “gay marriage” case in May.

The Massachusetts case is Cote-Whitacre et al v. Department of Public Health.
For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust