Editorial: No need for antique marriage law

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

State laws, it should go without saying, end at the state line. When it comes to matters of state jurisdiction, there is no obligation on the part of one state to enforce the laws of another within its borders. If a state makes an exception to that principle, there ought to be a pretty good reason.

In the case of a 1913 Massachusetts law restricting marriage, we know what that reason is. Unlike most other states at that time, Massachusetts did not prohibit people of different races from getting married. Out of a misplaced concern that mixed-race couples from other states would flock to Massachusetts to get married, the Legislature enacted a law decreeing that out-of-state couples could not be married here if their marriage would be illegal in their home state.

That law languished in justified obscurity for decades, especially after the Supreme Court in 1967 voided state anti-miscegenation laws. But it was revived in 2004, when Massachusetts again took the lead in extending marriage rights, this time to same-sex couples.

The law is no more justified now than in 1913. Former Gov. Mitt Romney's fear that Massachusetts will become "the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage" is an insult to loving couples who wish to cement their commitment to each other. Concerns that Bay State marriages will void the laws of other states are unfounded. States set their own rules for recognition of marriages, a legal prerogative that has been reinforced by the, in our eyes regrettable, federal Defense Of Marriage Act.

Perhaps the best argument for keeping the 1913 law has been a political one: Efforts by same-sex couples married in Massachusetts to get their unions recognized in their home states, some felt, would backfire, building support for a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriages nationwide.

Now that California has legalized gay marriage and New York has agreed to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, that concern isn't as urgent. California has no equivalent to our 1913 prohibition, and couples from around the world are planning vacations to the Golden State to take their vows.

Those couples should be welcome in Massachusetts as well. After the honeymoon, the legal status of their marriages will be subject to the laws and politics of their home states, but that's not our problem. If we believe in marriage equality, we should be able to extend it to all couples, not just legal residents.

The 1913 law was enacted to pay undeserved respect to the prejudice that held sway in the capitals of other states. Instead of showing deference to a different prejudice, the Legislature should repeal it.

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