The Massachusetts House voted Tuesday to repeal a 1913 law that had been used to block gay "marriages" involving out-of-state couples, all but assuring that the state will allow same-sex couples to wed regardless of where they live.
The 119-36 vote came after the state Senate approved the repeal earlier this month, and Gov. Deval Patrick has said he will sign the bill. The measure requires one more procedural vote in each chamber before it is to the governor.
"Sometimes what you hope and pray for actually happens, which is kind of overwhelming," Michael Thorne, 55, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, said after telling his 6-year-old son his parents could soon get married. Thorne and his partner of 25 years, James Theberge, have an Aug. 18 wedding planned in Provincetown, although the repeal will not take effect until 90 days after Patrick's signature.
Opponents recoiled at the outcome.
"With that protective barrier removed, out-of-state same-sex couples who marry here will sue to seek recognition in their home states, creating a flood of costly lawsuits and further eroding the people's right to define marriage democratically," the Massachusetts Family Institute said in a statement.
Massachusetts became the first state to allow gay "marriage" in 2004, but then-Gov. Mitt Romney ordered city and town clerks to enforce the long-dormant 1913 law to bar out-of-state same-sex couples from marrying. The law prohibits couples from marrying if the unions would be illegal in their home states.
Romney had argued that repealing the ban would turn the state into the "Las Vegas of gay 'marriage.'" Since then, California has begun allowing same-sex "marriages" to both residents and out-of-state couples.
Some proponents say that repealing the law would allow Massachusetts to share in some of the economic boon California is enjoying. Patrick, the state's first black governor, and other supporters also say the old law carried racial undertones from a time when interracial marriage was discouraged or illegal in some states.
"The 1913 law is outdated and discriminatory. Repealing it is the right thing to do," Patrick said in a statement after the vote.
Opponents said the reasons behind the 1913 law are unclear, and repealing the ban amounted to meddling in the affairs of other states.
Rep. John Lepper, R-Attleboro, said sanctioning a marriage that is illegal elsewhere would "create a relationship and then set it adrift to settle in a disapproving state."
He spoke of a gay couple from Rhode Island that married in Massachusetts and now is seeking a divorce, saying it was typical of the "legal nightmare" a repeal would create.
"They can't divorce in Rhode Island because the law does not recognize (the marriage)," Lepper said. "They can't divorce in Massachusetts because there is a one-year residency requirement for filing."
The repeal effort passed after a relatively quick, 40-minute House debate free of the massive protests that accompanied other gay "marriage" debates in the state. Only seven legislators spoke on the issue, four in favor of the repeal, three who wanted to maintain the ban.
Rep. Byron Rushing, D-Boston, said continuing to ban out-of-state gays from marrying was unfair after the state's highest court ruled in 2003 that gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to be married.
"This is question of fairness, and it is a question of equity," Rushing said.
Rushing said the 1913 law undoubtedly has not been applied in many cases of marriages by first cousins. Massachusetts allows first cousins to marry, but half the states in the country do not.
"The fairness in this question is that we have allowed people to marry in Massachusetts who could not legally marry in their own state for decades, and now we want to change our way we are applying a bit of law we have never enforced. That, I think, is unfair," Rushing said.