Mass. Senate Votes To Let Out-Of-State Gays Wed

The Massachusetts Senate has voted to repeal a 1913 law that has been used to prevent out-of-state gay couples from marrying in the state. In 2004, the state became the first in the nation to allow gay marriages. The House is expected to vote this week.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

It's only a matter of time before Massachusetts gives gay couples from out of state the right to marry there. Today, the state Senate voted to repeal an old law that prevented couples from marrying in Massachusetts if they can't get married in their home state. And the law is expected to pass in the House and to be signed by the governor.

NPR's Tovia Smith was at the state house in Boston.

TOVIA SMITH: Anyone who'd witnessed some of the past legislative votes on gay marriage in Massachusetts would have been surprised by what happened today. There were no protestors, no police barricades, and so many empty parking spots right in front of the state house, you had to wonder if you were here on the right day.

Marc Solomon is with the pro-gay marriage group MassEquality.

Mr. MARC SOLOMON (Executive Director, MassEquality): I think it shows that people in Massachusetts are fine with the fact that same-sex couples can get married here. You know, our opponents predicted that the skies would open and terrible things would happen. Instead, for the most part, no one else really cares.

SMITH: Today's vote would repeal a nearly century-old law that many say was meant to prevent interracial marriage. Politically, it was easier for lawmakers to vote against that kind of discriminatory law than to vote for gay marriage. Today's vote to make gay marriage available to out-of-staters was also made politically easier by the fact that California has already done it. As Solomon notes, Massachusetts lawmakers had been under pressure not to be the ones to let the cat out of the bag, so to speak.

Mr. SOLOMON: It does take pressure off of the legislatures here that out-of-state couples can already get married in California, and it does close a chapter, a tremendous chapter I'd say, in Massachusetts' history.

SMITH: But if Massachusetts gay marriage does become available to out-of-staters, it is significant, because gay marriage in California still has a serious cloud of doubt hanging over it. A question on California's November ballot could ban gay marriage, and if it passes, no one knows what - if anything - a marriage certificate from California would be worth to a gay couple down the road.

In Massachusetts, the campaign to ban gay marriage has already been fought, and it lost, so it's considered a much more secure option for gay couples. It's why New York consultant, Mitchell Carp(ph), has been watching news from Massachusetts and waiting to get married here.

Mr. MITCHELL CARP (Consultant): That we could get married makes me ecstatic. It's the sense of joining society, you know, and waking up every day and saying, me too, we too, we belong, we have rights, we exist, and not pushed into the background of invisibility.

SMITH: Carp's home state, New York, is one of just a few that have indicated they will recognize gay marriages performed in other states. Most have legislation or constitutional amendments saying they will not. And the issue of recognition is likely to take years to sort out in the courts.

Peter Sprigg is with the anti-gay marriage group, the Family Research Council.

Mr. PETER SPRIGG (Vice President of Policy, Family Research Council): Well, I don't think it's appropriate for one state or two states to force this radical new definition of marriage upon, virtually, the rest of the country. I think it would be a grave assault upon our democratic system.

SMITH: Sprigg says he hopes what he calls Massachusetts' radical move will serve as a kind of wakeup call to opponents of gay marriage in other states. He points to what happened in 2004, when the Massachusetts' court decision legalizing gay marriage prompted something of a backlash with a slew of states passing Defense Of Marriage Acts.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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