Opponents Forsee Massachusetts as 'Las Vegas of Gay Marriage'

BOSTON - Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill Thursday that repealed a 1913 law that had blocked gay couples from outside Massachusetts from marrying here.

"We're being recognized as a married couple," said Joy Spring, of Middletown, N.Y., who planned to wed Carla Barbano, her partner of seven years, at a ceremony Friday in Provincetown.

Supporters of the repeal of the law, which banned couples from marrying in Massachusetts unless their unions would be legal in their home states, say lifting the ban was not only fair but will have economic benefits.

A state study estimates that more than 30,000 out-of-state gay couples — most of them from New York — will wed in Massachusetts over the next three years. That would boost the state's economy by $111 million and create 330 jobs, the study estimated.

Opponents say Massachusetts now could become the "Las Vegas of gay marriage," and they criticized lawmakers for infringing on other states' rights to define marriage.

Patrick, the state's first black governor, said he was proud to sign the bill repealing the law, which some say had its roots in trying to block interracial marriages.

Massachusetts in 2003 became the first state to rule gay couples had a right to marry; California recently legalized gay "marriage," without a residency requirement.

"In five years now, the sky has not fallen, the earth has not opened to swallow us all up, and more to the point, thousands and thousands of good people — contributing members of our society — are able to make free decisions about their personal future, and we ought to seek to affirm that every chance we can," said Patrick, whose 18-year-old daughter recently revealed publicly she's a lesbian.

An emergency preamble attached to Thursday's law allowed out-of-staters to begin marrying immediately.

Spring and Barbano, who were joined in a civil union in 2006 in New York, are from one of the few states that will recognize their impending union: New York Gov. David Paterson said earlier this year that state law requires recognition of legal marriages performed elsewhere.

"Now New Yorkers can drive across the border to a neighboring state (and) get a marriage license that will be recognized as fully legal and valid here at home," said a statement from Empire State Pride Agenda, a New York gay rights group.

The California Supreme Court ruled this year that same-sex "marriage" is legal, and Rhode Island law is quiet on the subject. Other states specifically forbid it, though a few allow same-sex civil unions.

Opponents said the ban prevented Massachusetts from interfering with the decisions of other states — the overwhelming majority of which specifically bar same-sex "marriage." The old law had been invoked by then-Gov. Mitt Romney, who said repealing it would make Massachusetts the "Las Vegas of gay marriage."

Now opponents say the Massachusetts repeal may just give fresh momentum to efforts for a constitutional amendment that would ban gay "marriage" across the country.

"This is a clarion call for the rest of the nation on the dangers of this radical social experiment, and also the essential need for a federal marriage amendment to clearly define marriage as the union of one man and one woman," said Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute.

"Same-sex marriage is a social experiment, and it certainly will have an impact on the culture, particularly the children, where we already see that in Massachusetts, children are being educated on the efficacy of same-sex marriage and the irrelevance of fatherhood and motherhood," Mineau said.

Associated Press Writer Nancy Kelsey contributed to this report.