Dec 7, 2013
The Bigots Are Coming! The Bigots Are Coming!
Posted on Jun 21, 2007
BOSTON—Back in 2004, a month before the first wedding bells rang for same-sex couples, then-Gov. Mitt Romney offered his opinion that “Massachusetts should not become the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage.”
It wasn’t that he wanted to protect Massachusetts’ reputation. He wanted to protect the country from what he regarded as Massachusetts’ folly. For that purpose Romney unearthed a 1913 law that said couples couldn’t be married here unless the unions would be legal in their home states.
I can’t imagine an Elvis impersonator driving a pink Cadillac of to-be-weds up Beacon Hill, nor do I equate the push for marriage equality with the quickie wedding. But I can envision a Paul Revere character ushering couples into Old North Church or a Minuteman welcoming them on the Lexington Green. Like, totally. I was in Lexington and it took me over.
The 1913 law has a rather murky past. It was ostensibly designed so that couples couldn’t escape the marriage laws in their home state. But the law was passed in the aftermath of a front-page scandal involving black heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson’s marriage to a 19-year-old white woman. It had the racist whiff of anti-miscegenation.
Fast-forward to last week. The Massachusetts Legislature finally and firmly ended the push for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. In three years, 10,000 couples have married, the sky hasn’t fallen and pro-marriage legislators were not turned out of office, and we now live with gay neighbors, friends and co-workers who are married. Who wants to take back the stemware?
Las Vegas? Mecca? So far, little Rhode Island is the only state that allows gay residents to wed in Massachusetts. We are the Las Vegas of Rhode Island. But some are saying that if we overturn the 1913 law, the marrying hordes will come and go back home with a license and a lawsuit.
Whether you like or loathe the idea, repealing the 1913 law isn’t likely to have much effect. There are at least 44 states with no chance of recognition because of statutes or constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage. As Joanna Grossman, a family law professor at Hofstra who has written extensively on this subject, says, “There’s nothing much one state can do to change the national landscape.”
Gay couples can already get married in Canada and come home unmarried. So, too, couples could get married in Massachusetts but go home and be unmarried in, say, Michigan.
“What makes marriage legally important is recognition by the jurisdiction in which you live,” says Grossman. “There’s the chance that couples would use this to litigate in a handful of other states like New York. There is the chance that, in a few states, a court might rule that even though we don’t permit same-sex marriage, we recognize it if valid elsewhere.” But by and large, what would happen is this: “Massachusetts would suffer a brief economic boom and that would be the end of it.”
Mine may be the only state with full-fledged marriage for some years. It may be less of a launching pad than a laboratory. We need laws for 2007, not 1913. But all in all, don’t confuse us with Vegas or Mecca. What is it the Chamber of Commerce likes to label us? The cradle of liberty. Like, totally.
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