BOSTON – The town clerk in Provincetown (search), Cape Cod's gay tourism mecca, said Tuesday he will issue marriage licenses to out-of-state gay couples despite the threat of legal action by Gov. Mitt Romney (search).
"We would rather be sued and be on the side of right than kowtow to the governor's personal wishes," Doug Johnstone said.
Gay marriages (search) will become legal in Massachusetts on Monday, but out-of-state couples are barred from marrying under a 1913 law prohibiting marriages that would be illegal in a couple's home state. No other state currently recognizes gay marriages.
Provincetown's Board of Selectmen voted Monday to issue licenses to out-of-state couples anyway, as long as they attest they know of no legal impediment to their union.
"To make people feel 'other than' or 'less than' just because of their sexual orientation is not what the ruling is all about and certainly not what Provincetown is all about," Johnstone said.
Immediately after Monday's vote, Romney issued a statement threatening legal action against city and town clerks statewide who defy his interpretation of the law.
"Our position is that we're not the residency police," said Selectman Mary-Jo Avellar. "I would think the governor would have more important things to think about than who is getting married here."
Romney's office has warned clerks they will be required to seek proof of residency or the intention to move to Massachusetts from all couples — gay and straight — who are seeking to marry.
"We are a nation of laws," Romney said in the statement. "If they choose to break the law, we will take appropriate enforcement action, refuse to recognize those marriages, and inform the parties that the marriage is null and void."
Huge crowds are expected in Provincetown on Monday. For months, business owners and hoteliers in the gay-friendly seaside town at the tip of Cape Cod have been preparing for an anticipated summer rush of gay weddings.
Romney's office has said the consequences of an illegal marriage could be severe for the couple, particularly if they have children, because of legal questions of support and custody.
There also could be legal consequences for the clerks. Under state law, officials who issue a license "knowing that parties are prohibited" can face a fine of $100 to $500 or a prison sentence of up to a year.
Attorney Mary Bonauto, who represented several gay couples whose case led to the court decision legalizing gay weddings, said Romney's interpretation of state law should bar marriage to gay couples only from those states with laws on their books declaring gay marriages "null and void." She estimates only about 20 states have that type of law.
"It's because of his personal beliefs that he is applying the law to all 49 (other states)...," Bonauto said. "I find it sad that the Massachusetts governor would penalize a town for recognizing that Massachusetts has no business denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples whether they are Massachusetts residents or not."
The Legislature has given preliminary approval to a constitutional ban on gay marriage, but it must still receive an additional round of approval from lawmakers during the 2005-2006 session and then by voters in November 2006. The constitutional amendment would simultaneously legalize civil unions.