Expanding Marriage Rights
Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in the country. California followed suit this year. However a caveat to the Massachusetts new marriage laws is that Massachusetts will still deny same-sex couples, coming from out of state to marry in Massachusetts if the marriage would not be recognized in their home state. This is a 1913 law that former Governor Mitt Romney dug up right after the Supreme Judicial Court (the highest state court of Massachusetts) ordered town clerks to hand out marriage certificates to same-sex couples seeking marriage.
There was an initial boom in same-sex marriage in Massachusetts following the SJC ruling. However, those numbers seem to have leveled off after all the couples who were always denied the right of marriage got married. Many same-sex couples from out of state stayed away from getting married in Massachusetts because they were not permitted to do so under the 1913 law. That is now changing. The Senate this week passed a bill that would repeal the 1913 law and allow for out of state residents to get a Massachusetts marriage certificate even if their home state does not allow same-sex marriage. The house still needs to approve it and Governor Patrick still needs to sign it into law. Both the House and the Governor are expected to approve and sign the bill.
What does this mean for same-sex marriage in this country? Does this mean that anyone from any of the other 48 states can come to Massachusetts or California (since California does not have the equivalent of our 1913 law) and get married then go back home and live in marital bliss? Those are all excellent questions and no one knows the answers to them yet.
Surely the states that have constitutional bans on same-sex marriages (at least 41 of them) will not recognize the marriage certificates of its citizens that travel to Massachusetts or California to obtain marriage licenses. This does not mean that a legal challenge would not succeed. Federal law permits individual states to not recognize same-sex marriages from out of state (Defense of Marriage Act) despite our nation’s long held belief in comity. All the other states that allow some form of same-sex unions are undecided as to how they will not treat this new development.
One thing is for sure – the fight in this country to legalize same-sex marriage throughout the union will continue. In my opinion, it is only a matter of time before all states will either voluntarily recognize same-sex marriage or will be forced to by their own courts or the Supreme Court of the United States. It is no longer a question of “if” but “when”. The next states to answer the question of same-sex marriage are expected to be Connecticut and Iowa.