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A Massachusetts court ruled today that gay and lesbian couples from Rhode Island can marry in Massachusetts. It's the first time couples who live out of state will be allowed to take advantage of gay marriage in Massachusetts. NPR's Tovia Smith reports.
TOVIA SMITH: Shortly after Massachusetts' highest court opened the door for marriage here, Governor Mitt Romney said he didn't want Massachusetts to become the Las Vegas of gay marriage and he started enforcing a century-old law that would block out-of-staters from marrying here if they couldn't marry back home.
But a court today, gave the okay to a couple from Rhode Island, saying that even though gay marriage isn't explicitly legal there, it's not expressly outlawed either. So the court now says, two years after they first tried, Rhode Island residents Wendy Becker and Mary Norton can marry in Massachusetts.
WENDY BECKER: Oh, we are so thrilled. Mary called and I picked up the phone and she yelled we won and it was just absolutely thrilling. And I started crying and screaming and my colleagues came running in my office and we had an impromptu party.
SMITH: With her 6yearold daughter ecstatic that she can finally buy her flower girl dress, Becker immediately started making wedding plans - and she says she and her partner are not the only ones in Rhode Island doing so.
BECKER: We know of people who are waiting for this decision and want to get married, so we are certainly hoping that more people will take advantage of this and expect that they will.
SMITH: There are just a few other states, including New Jersey and New Mexico, where the law so far is silent enough on gay marriage that residents might also be allowed to marry in Massachusetts. Opponents of gay marriage say today's decision will only fuel efforts in those states and elsewhere for constitutional bans on gay marriage and even in Rhode Island, this may be just the beginning of a long battle.
Rhode Island's governor opposes gay marriage and the state's attorney general says Massachusetts' ruling does not mean that Rhode Island will recognize a same-sex marriage from Massachusetts. He says only the Rhode Island legislature or courts can decide that issue.
So as soon as a same-sex couple, like Becker and Norton, tries to file a joint tax return or applies for work benefits, litigation may be inevitable.
Conservative activists like Matt Staver of The Liberty Council say they're also looking into ways to challenge today's decision on its face.
MATT STAVER: I think, for a Massachusetts court to assume that another state permits same-sex marriage because it doesn't expressly prohibit it - notwithstanding the fact that its traditions have never recognized same-sex marriage - is just simple grasping at air and is overreaching at best, and certainly arrogant at worst.
SMITH: But gay rights activists dismiss that argument. Michele Granda, the attorney for the Rhode Island couple, says the Massachusetts court is not imposing its views on Rhode Island.
MICHELE GRANDA: In fact, Rhode Island has made up its own mind. And in fact Rhode Island had the opportunity to amend its laws to expressly prohibit couples from marrying. They did not. Rhode Islands already made a decision for itself, that its not a state that it wants to discriminate so why should Massachusetts create roadblocks for Rhode Island that Rhode Island hasn't created for itself?
SMITH: Massachusetts' attorney general says he will not appeal today's decision since the state's highest court has already spoken on the matter, but Governor Mitt Romney is urging him to reconsider, saying the decision will wrongly export Massachusetts gay marriage to other states. A spokesman says the governor finds today's decision illogical. If gay couples truly are not barred from marrying in their own state, he says, then they shouldn't need to come to Massachusetts to do it. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.
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