BOXBORO, Mass. – Gov. Mitt Romney's (search) top legal counsel told the state's justices of the peace Sunday to resign if they are unwilling to preside over same-sex marriages beginning next month.
Daniel Winslow said Romney expects the justices to comply with the law, even though the Republican governor opposes gay marriage (search) and has sought to delay its court-ordered legalization on May 17.
"Gov. Romney understands and respects that people have very strong personal views both for or against same-gender marriage," Winslow told justices gathered to learn about the impending changes. "But on this point, the law is clear."
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (search) ruled in November the state must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples by mid-May, which means changes for clerks and justices of the peace.
Refusing to marry gay couples could leave justices individually liable and raises the possibility of punitive damages in court, said David Fried, enforcement chief for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, who also addressed the gathering.
"To the extent that the justices of the peace have taken an oath to follow the law, it seems to me both appropriate and wise to do so," Fried said.
Nelson Goldin, one of the state's approximately 1,200 justices of the peace, said he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman only.
"But I took my oath of office and told them I will marry anyone who the commonwealth of Massachusetts says has the right to be wed," he said.
Meanwhile, Romney said same-sex couples who live outside the state will not be allowed to marry in Massachusetts when the law takes effect. He cited a 1913 law barring unions that would not be legal in the couples' home state.
"Massachusetts should not become the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage," he told The New York Times for a story in Sunday's editions. "We do not intend to export our marriage confusion to the entire nation."
Supporters of gay marriage say the 1913 law is discriminatory and was never envisioned to block same-sex marriage. They criticize Romney for adopting the broadest interpretation possible for the law.
Romney ordered changes to the state's marriage application, including now asking applicants for evidence of where a person resides and intends to reside. It warns out-of-state couples that if they do not intend to reside in Massachusetts, the marriage "shall be null and void."