Mass. Set to Repeal Segregation-era Marriage Law

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In the waning days of their session, Massachusetts lawmakers have announced plans to repeal a nearly 100 year-old law that has kept many out-of-state gay couples from marrying in Massachusetts. The 1913 law says the Commonwealth can't issue a marriage license that would be void in a couple's home state. Supporters say it's finally time to remove the controversial law. WBUR's Martha Bebinger has more.

BEBINGER: A year ago, when lawmakers rejected a ballot question that would ban gay marriage, gay rights activists said their next battle would be to repeal what has become known simply as the 1913 law. But nothing happened. Behind the scenes, National Democratic Party leaders asked supporters to put the bill aside until after this fall's Presidential election, and leaders on Beacon Hill agreed. Then in May, California's Supreme Court took the spotlight off Massachusetts with a ruling that allows gay marriage in the country's most populous state. That's when Massachusetts lawmakers, including Senator Edward Augustus, started talking about reviving the repeal and allowing gay couples from anywhere in the country to get married in the Commonwealth.

EDWARD AUGUSTUS: We have been a leader on this issue and it's important that Massachusetts take down that unwelcome symbol that that 1913 law represents.

BEBINGER: Gay marriage opponents are angry about reviving the bill... particularly so late in the session. Supporters acknowledge they waited to move the measure until the deadline for launching a potential ballot question on gay marriage for this fall had passed.

KRIS MINEAU: The timing of this is very suspect.

BEBINGER: Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, was traveling yesterday and not sure how much of a campaign to stop the vote he could muster.

MINEAU: Nonetheless, we remain committed to keeping the law in effect. It's a law that protects the rights of other states and I think it's rather brazen of the legislators in Massachusetts to export this radical social experiment onto other states.

BEBINGER: Both House Speaker Sal DiMasi and Senate President Therese Murray have said the 1913 law should be repealed and plan to take it up before the legislature adjourns at the end of this month. Co-chair of the Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Political Caucus, Arline Isaacson, says much of the controversy over gay marriage in the legislature is gone.

ARLINE ISAACSON: Now that we've been able to marry for so many years legislators have seen that the sun still comes up in the morning and Western civilization has not been torn asunder. As a result of that, it's less frightening, they are more and more comfortable with it, and that's making a huge difference.

BEBINGER: As to whether expanding access to gay marriage in Massachusetts might hurt Democrats, and Senator Barack Obama, in particular, this fall...Governor Deval Patrick says no. Patrick says this law, that was initially used to block interracial marriages, must go.

DEVAL PATRICK: This isn't a national issue. It's about dealing with a Massachusetts statute that has very shady origins, going back to a time of lawful racial discrimination. And that has concerned me for a long, long time. So if that bill does come to me and when it does come to me I look forward to signing it.

BEBINGER: Political analysts say gay marriage has become less of a hot button issue as more states allow it or gay civil unions. The welcome mat that some lawmakers hope to offer out of state gay couples could be paved with dollars. A study out of UCLA last month projects gay weddings would generate 684-million dollars in California...more than half from out of state couples. For W-B-U-R, I'm Martha Bebinger.

This program aired on July 10, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.