Mass. May Allow Nonresident Gay Marriages

In Massachusetts, the Senate has voted to repeal an old law that has been used to keep out-of-state couples from marrying in the state. The law prohibits couples from getting marriage licenses if they can't legally wed in their home states. Gay and lesbian couples from across the nation may soon be able to get married in Massachusetts.

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Gay and lesbian couples from around the nation may soon be able to get married in Massachusetts. The state Senate has voted to repeal an old law that prevents out-of-staters from marrying in Massachusetts if they could not legally marry in their home state.

It's expected to pass the House later this week and be signed by the governor shortly after. NPR's Tovia Smith has this report.

TOVIA SMITH: Massachusetts lawmakers have seen their share of votes on gay marriage, and it's usually just short of a circus.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

Unidentified Man: This is turning into a public-safety issue.

SMITH: But yesterday's vote had none of that. It was so subdued, it might as well have been about a highway bill.

Unidentified Woman #1: Is there an objection? Chair has none. On Page 2…

SMITH: Just a handful of lawmakers even spoke.

Unidentified Woman #2: I hope this bill is passed. Thank you.

SMITH: Not a single one in opposition. And in minutes, it was over.

Unidentified Woman #1: All those in favor, say aye. Opposed, no? The ayes have it. The bill's passed. (unintelligible)

SMITH: Marc Solomon is with the pro-gay-marriage group Mass Equality. He says this vote was an easier sell, partly because lawmakers were not so much voting for gay marriage as they were voting against a nearly century-old law aimed at preventing interracial marriage. And Solomon says opposition to gay marriage has softened over the past four years.

Mr. MARC SOLOMON (Mass Equality): Unlike the predictions from our opponents that the skies would open and terrible things would happen, instead, you know, there are 11,000 couples who have married here. And for the most part, no one else really cares.

SMITH: California was the first to make gay marriage available to out-of-staters, but a constitutional ban comes to a vote there in November and could leave same-sex married couples in legal limbo. In Massachusetts, such a ban has already been rejected, so it's seen as a safer bet.

Mitchell Carp(ph), a 53-year-old consultant from New York, says he's already made plans to come scout out sites for his wedding on Cape Cod.

Mr. MITCHELL CARP (Consultant): It makes me ecstatic, you know, waking up every day and saying me, too, we, too - we belong, we have rights, 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'll recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere. Most others have legislation or constitutional amendments banning recognition, and the issue is likely to clog up the courts for years.

Mr. CHRIS MEANO (Massachusetts Family Institute): What this will do is open up a Pandora's box of lawsuits to challenge the marriage requirements in other states.

SMITH: Chris Meano, who lobbies against gay marriage for the Massachusetts Family Institute, calls the move an assault on other states' rights.

Mr. MEANO: It's open war on the other states regarding their definitions of marriage.

SMITH: Meano says he hopes the news from Massachusetts will serve as a wake-up call. Peter Sprigg, with the Family Research Council, agrees. Just like Massachusetts' 2004 court decision legalizing gay marriage prompted many states to pass defense-of-marriage acts, he hopes this radical move, as he calls it, will boost support for a federal constitutional amendment that has so far failed to gain traction.

Mr. PETER SPRIGG (Family Research Council): It's going to take something dramatic, I think, to shift the conversation. So from our perspective, the silver lining in this might be that it would mobilize pro-family citizens to rise up and make this federal amendment a realistic possibility.

SMITH: For all the principled arguments for and against gay marriage, several lawmakers voting to open Massachusetts' doors to out-of-staters also noted a more practical concern. They say the move could bring some 30,000 weddings to Massachusetts in the next few years, boosting the economy by more than $100 million. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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