July 15, 2008

Massachusetts To Allow Nonresident Same-Sex Couples to Wed After This Week

For all its problems, have to say are really like living in Massachusetts. Not only was it the first of so far only two states to legalize same-sex marriage, but now it seems that Massachusetts is finally getting ready to allow same-sex couples from other states to get married here.

The reason that they haven’t been able to up until now is due to a 1913 law that prohibits any couple from getting married in Massachusetts if their marriage would be illegal in the state in which they reside. What kinds of marriages were illegal in some states in 1913? Why, interracial marriages, of course! To be fair, incestuous marriages were also covered under this law, but the reason the law was passed early in the last century was very likely the then-scandalous marriage of a black boxer to a white woman. Besides, Massachusetts already had laws preventing such marriages (see Massachusetts General Law, Title III, Chapter 207, sections 1 and 2). There's little doubt that the 1913 Law was passed due to racist motivations.

The law wasn’t even enforced in Massachusetts until 2004, when governor Mitt Romney started thinking about running for president. When it came time for him to start worrying about pandering to the right-wing religious base of the Republican Party, he invoked as quintessentially racist law to make it look like he was opposed to gay marriage — even though he wasn't strongly opposed to at least civil unions as late as 2002 (note: the site I've linked to here is one run by one of the most conservative political action groups in Massachusetts, so this is not "liberal" anti-Romney material but conservative-generated info). The national spotlight seems to have changed that.

Our current governor and state legislature looked to be on the verge of kicking the 1913 marriage law off the books, and it’s about time. A vote on this may be held in the state Senate today and in the House by Thursday. If the law is overturned, it will be legal for a couple from any state to be married in Massachusetts if their union is legal in this state.

A long way since 1913

the best-known act of the Massachusetts Legislature of 1913 is a law denying marriage licenses to nonresident couples if their union would be illegal in their home states.

The measure has a miserable history. Though it resurfaced as part of the same-sex marriage debate in 2004, its origins lie in racial discrimination...

...Back in 1913, interracial marriages were legal in Massachusetts, but not in most states. Yet it's not at all clear that any interracial couples were ever turned away under the law. Instead, it fell into obscurity and only resurfaced four years ago, when Governor Mitt Romney cited it in telling towns to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples from out of state.

Other states can enforce their own laws. And if most states refuse to recognize some marriages that are legal in Massachusetts, that's their loss...
The law in question is Massachusetts General Law Title III, Chapter 207, Section 11:
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.
Section 12 then explains how out-of-state residents are to be prevented from getting married in a way that's legal in Massachusetts but not legal in, say, Oklahoma:
Before issuing a license to marry a person who resides and intends to continue to reside in another state, the officer having authority to issue the license shall satisfy himself, by requiring affidavits or otherwise, that such person is not prohibited from intermarrying by the laws of the jurisdiction where he or she resides.
This is probably why Section 11 was never enforced before it was dredged up from obscurity in the case of same-sex marriages. Enforcing something like this would have meant that any couple without a Massachusetts address would have needed a note from their local justice of the peace or lawmakers or what have you that explained the laws of some other state in order to get married here, in which case why would they bother to get married here at all? Essentially, this would have had the effect of barring anyone from out of state from getting married in Massachusetts.

Moon-Faced Assassin of Joy as depicted in Clive Barker's 'Nightbreed'As one might expect, the moon-faced assassins of joy are up in arms about the death of this bigoted blight on the Massachusetts law books. "But this will make Massachusetts the Las Vegas of gay marriage," whine people such as Peter LaBarbera, to which I can only reply, so what if it does? Right now, isn't Las Vegas the Las Vegas of straight marriage? Don't half of all opposite-sex marriage end in divorce? If concerned women like Bam-Bam are worried about Massachusetts becoming a Mecca for same-sex couples who want to have a go at a formal commitment, there's an easy solution; simply make their marriages legal in lots of other places. Then they wouldn't be forced to come here or go to California to get married. Problem solved. Of course, what the whiners are really opposed to is that these couples will be able to get married at all. This isn't about Massachusetts, it's about their watching their ability to prevent same-sex marriages from happening at all.

As far as I'm concerned, if every homosexual couple in the world decides they want to get married in Massachusetts starting next week, fine! Come on over! Welcome; sorry to have kept you waiting while our government got around to finally obliterating a law intended to enforce one form of bigotry that had been used to maintain another that has at last become a minority view after a four-year experiment has demonstrated that allowing two committed men or two committed women from wedding one another does not, in fact, cause invisible sky-giants to rain meteors down upon us all. Good luck and may you have many years of happiness together.

The world is about to become a tiny bit better.

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