TV & Radio
Gays hope ally becomes first black Mass. governor
By Jason Szep
Thu Oct 19, 8:41 AM ET
Deval Patrick, widely expected to become Massachusetts' first black governor, says a nearly century-old law used to stop gays from elsewhere in America from marrying in the liberal state is rooted in racism.
If the Democrat wins on November 7, he would not only be the second African-American elected governor in the nation but he could also pave the way for gay couples from Alaska to Maine to marry in the only U.S. state where gays can legally wed.
Under Patrick, conservative Christians warn, Massachusetts will become the Las Vegas of gay marriage.
Patrick, comfortably leading in polls, has sharply criticized a 1913 law invoked by Massachusetts Republican Gov. and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney -- and upheld by the state's highest court in March -- that bars out-of-state gay couples from marrying in Massachusetts.
A top civil rights enforcer in the Clinton administration, Patrick has questioned the roots of the law, originally passed in part to uphold other states' bans on interracial marriage.
"I think that something that has origins as questionable and as discriminatory as they seem to be in this case ought to come off our books," he said in a recent debate.
The law, which is rare among U.S. states, prohibits Massachusetts from marrying an out-of-state couple if the marriage would be illegal in their home state. Most states have either laws or constitutional amendments barring gay marriage.
"The 1913 law has some very troubling origins," Patrick said. "It seems to have come on the books at the time when jurisdictions were trying to prevent marriage between blacks and whites -- and that worries me."
Gay rights advocates expect Patrick, if he beats Republican Kerry Healy, to lobby the Democratic-controlled legislature to rescind the law, again putting Massachusetts at the center of a socially divisive national debate over gay marriage.
IMPACT IF LAW REPEALED
Mike Thorne and Jim Theberge, a gay couple in Maine with a 4-year-old son, are among those hoping for a Patrick win.
"Massachusetts has same-sex marriage, why shouldn't people from Maine or other states have it too," said Theberge, 48, a doctor who was born in Massachusetts and lives with Thorne, 43, in Cape Elizabeth, a coastal resort town of 9,068 people about an hour's drive from Massachusetts.
"The whole marriage thing has to do with him," said Thorne, pointing to the couple's adopted son Nate at their dinner table. "We made a commitment to being a family together and, for me, that includes all the legal protections of marriage."
The two men were among eight plaintiff couples who lost a Massachusetts' supreme court challenge to the 1913 law, which was invoked by Romney in 2004 when Massachusetts became the first and only U.S. state to allow same-sex marriage.
"If Massachusetts repealed the 1913 law, it would make the supreme court's March ruling moot," said Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders.
The ruling left open the possibility that gay couples from states such as New York and Rhode Island that do not expressly ban same-sex marriage might be able to marry in Massachusetts. This month, a Rhode Island lesbian couple were married in Massachusetts after a separate court challenge.
"It's bizarre for one state to just be so socially reckless as to want to export this type of marriage to the other 49 states," said Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, a conservative Christian organization.
Mineau said his group, which also seeks a statewide referendum in Massachusetts to ban gay marriage, would lobby the state legislature to keep the 1913 law.
Still, other states may not recognize a Massachusetts gay marriage. "That state would have to decide what they want to do around recognition issues," said Swislow.
The top court in New Jersey, which does not have a law similar to Massachusetts' 1913 statute, is expected to rule on the issue before October 25. If it legalizes gay marriage, out of state same-sex couples could marry there, said Swislow.
"Then, what we do in Massachusetts with the 1913 law becomes irrelevant. The landscape will already have changed."