Gay Marriage a Go for May 17

Barriers for out-of-state couples, but New Yorkers will try

The first same-sex marriages that will be performed in the United States without any question about their legal validity will commence at the stroke of midnight on May 17 in Cambridge, Massachusetts as a resistant state government surrenders to a November ruling of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.

While at least one New York gay couple will try to marry in the Bay State this week, Republican Gov. Mitt Romney is doing his best to stop them and others from around the country.

Same-sex marriage is now at the center of U.S. elections, with several states holding referenda on constitutional amendments to ban it. These votes have the potential to mobilize right wing constituencies that President Bush needs to prevail in November.

Right wing groups sued in federal court to block gay couples from marrying in Massachusetts and the judge in the case said he would rule Thursday or Friday of this week. They are given little chance of prevailing.

The seven plaintiff couples in the Goodridge case won by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) in Boston will be applying for their marriage licenses on Monday, going to probate court to get waivers of the three-day waiting period, which they fully expect, and then having their marriages solemnized, some by ministers and one couple by the mayor of Newton. In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino will greet three of the couples, including Hillary and Julie Goodridge, as they arrive at City Hall to obtain their applications.

The Supreme Judicial Court rejected Friday an appeal by Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and 13 state legislators to bar the marriages from going forward. The ACLJ had argued that the court had no jurisdiction over the marriage law.

Romney continues to try to thwart gay couples seeking to marry. He is refusing to announce until Monday whether he will grant the traditional one-day waivers for those unlicensed in Massachusetts to solemnize marriages, a procedure used by couples who wish to have an out-of-state friend preside at their ceremonies.

Things are even less certain for out-of-state gay couples that want to marry in Massachusetts. Romney says they can’t, but on May 4 he backed down on requiring proof of residency or intention to reside in the state other than signing an affidavit on the application affirming such residency or intention. The clerk in Worcester says he will marry out-of-state gay couples. And the Provincetown board of selectman voted unanimously to do so as well.

Romney is threatening to prosecute the clerks if they act against his interpretation of the 1913 law that actually disallows marrying couples from states where their marriages would be “void.” He said the marriages of out-of-state couples will not be recognized by Massachusetts and the couples will be informed that their licenses are “null and void.” There is a new bill in the state legislature to repeal the 1913 law, written to stop interracial couples from states with miscegenation laws from going to Massachusetts to marry, but the new proposal is not going anywhere.

That’s not stopping Vincent Maniscalco and Edward DeBonis of Manhattan. They are going to Boston for a showing of a film about their 2002 church wedding, “Saints and Sinners” on Saturday at the Museum of Fine Arts and will try to get legally married starting on Monday. They have had the required syphilis tests within 30 days of their intended wedding. They have no intention of perjuring themselves to get a license, but believe that if they can marry in Massachusetts it will be legal in New York based on an opinion of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in March that legal same-sex marriages performed elsewhere must be recognized in this state, even though such unions cannot be solemnized here. GLAD is offering no firm guidance at this time to out-of-state couples hoping to wed in Massachusetts, though the group points out that Romney’s interpretation of the 1913 law is “an executive fiat,” not necessarily established law.

Spitzer’s office refused comment on how they are responding to a letter from Romney asking if New York allows same-sex marriage.

“We’re still reviewing it,” said his spokesperson, Brad Maione.

The attorney general supports same-sex marriage and Gov. George Pataki, who also received the letter from Romney as did all U.S. governors and attorneys general, opposes it. Pataki’s office dodged calls for the second week in a row on the issue.

Spitzer is the state’s lawyer and might have to defend the current marriage law if it is challenged. At least four major lawsuits have been filed on behalf of New York same-sex couples seeking to marry that argue that the ban on same-sex marriage violates the state constitution.

Maniscalco and DeBonis could have gone to Ontario or British Columbia where there are no barriers to foreign gay couples marrying. They were witnesses at the Toronto wedding of Brendan Fay and Tom Moulton of Queens earlier this year.

“Politically, we feel couples should be trying to get licenses in the states,” DeBonis said. “I think it will help in the cases that are pending here,” said Maniscalco.

An additional New York presence in Massachusetts this week will be provided by the Civil Marriage Trail, a group founded by Fay and Jesus Lebron, who will be there to support gay couples in Cambridge at midnight on the 17th.

Romney got attacked from the right this week by the Declaration Alliance, a DC-based group headed by Alan Keyes, that aired radio ads challenging the governor to join their efforts to remove the four high court justices who ruled in favor of the right of gay couples to marry. Romney’s spokesperson said doing so “goes too far.”

Support for gay marriage rights went from 40 to 45 percent in the last month in a University of Massachusetts poll.

Others are also unwelcoming to the newlyweds in Massachusetts. A local of the electrical union voted to deny spousal benefits to same-sex spouses of their workers.

Marrying may also present a problem for gay and lesbian couples seeking to adopt foreign babies as many countries forbid adoption by gay people. In the past, same-sex couples got around that by having only one member of the pair doing the adopting.

While the Massachusetts breakthrough unfolds, same-sex marriage rights are under siege nationally. Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), said at a New York press conference Wednesday that he is demanding that U.S. Senate Democrats close the door to any anti-gay marriage amendment to the Constitution—not just the one currently on the table. He said he would make the argument in person at a meeting of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender groups with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and New York Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer on Thursday morning.

Foreman said that Senate Republicans were committed to bringing up the Federal Marriage Amendment, supported by President Bush, some time before the Democratic National Convention in Boston this summer in order to force Democrats to take a stand.

Thirty-nine states already ban same-sex marriage in law. Voters in Georgia, Mississippi, Utah, Kentucky, and Oklahoma are already scheduled to decide this November whether to ban same-sex marriage and, in some cases, its benefits in their constitutions. NGLTF said that it is likely that Arkansas, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, Ohio, Alabama, and Louisiana will have similar ballot measures this November, with Delaware and New Mexico as possibilities. In 2005, Wisconsin, Texas, and Pennsylvania are possibilities, and in 2006 Massachusetts and Tennessee voters could settle the matter at the ballot box.

A gay group called Cimarron Equality Oklahoma has started a national ad campaign to tell people that their state is “going out of business” due to its anti-gay amendment proposal that passed the House 92-4 in April. They say the message of the referendum is that gay people are not welcome in the state and that Oklahoma’s economic development is at risk as a result.

Oregon went to court to try to block a circuit court judge’s order that it register marriage licenses issued to gay couples in Multnomah County.

New Hampshire’s House voted 213-140 to bar recognition of same-sex marriages. During the debate, Rep. Corey Corbin, an out gay man, “stunned fellow legislators,” according to the Rockingham News, by coming out as HIV-positive. Corbin said his partner of eight years stood by him when he disclosed his status years ago. The state is considering civil unions.

In Washington State, Lambda Legal and the Northwest Women’s Law Center filed a suit on behalf of gay couples denied the right to marry in King County where Seattle is.

A rogue Florida lawyer named Ellis Rubin, who has campaigned against gay rights in the past, says he will file the first challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act on behalf of gay couples in a federal court, much to the consternation of LGBT legal groups around the country who fear this litigation might increase the appeal of a constitutional amendment.

Maine’s Senate joined the House this week in voting to bar recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. The state already has a law limiting its own marriages to sex-discordant couples. In April, it passed a domestic partners law.

A semi-bright spot in Kansas, which reversed course and denied a two-thirds majority to a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage on May 4. A few House members changed their positions from the first vote on the bill.

Virginia’s new anti-gay marriage law bans marriage for gay couples, but also civil unions of any “partnership contract between persons of the same-sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage.”

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers voted this week to oppose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning same-sex marriage, saying that “family law traditionally has been the prerogative of the states.”

For advise from Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders on this issue, refer to “How to Get Married in Massachusetts,” found at glad.org. For more information about the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s work on same-sex marriage, visit ngltf.org. If you are interested in joining Civil Marriage Trail in traveling to Massachusetts this Sunday night, visit civilmarriagetrail.org.

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