Confusion over "ignored" Massachusetts' forgotten law Ann Rostow, Gay.com/PlanetOut.com Network Tuesday 4 May, 2004 11:23 The 1913 law that will be used to prevent out-of-state same-sex couples from marrying in the US state of Massachusetts has not been enforced in decades because county clerks were directed to ignore it. Enacted to avoid conducting interracial marriages for couples from the South, the law says that visiting couples may not marry in the Bay State if their marriage would be illegal in their own state. If they somehow evade this prohibition, the law says that their marriage will be "void". According to the Boston Globe, the statute didn't simply fall into disuse. Instead, the state of Massachusetts proactively ordered town clerks to ignore it. This information, reported on Wednesday, makes the law's sudden revival more questionable. The Department of Public Health has repeatedly issued memos and policy statements, instructing town clerks to avoid interrogating couples who are obtaining marriage licences. In 1995, the Globe reports, a memo stated: "A clerk CANNOT AND MUST NOT question the citizenship or legal status of a marriage applicant," adding that these officials should not "routinely ask for birth records or other proof of age". The hands-off policy, dating back to the 1970s, was designed to cut down on paperwork, make life easier for the clerks and encourage marriage. It now stands in stark contrast to the rules and regulations announced by Gov. Mitt Romney (R) that will come into effect as gay couples start marrying on May 17. Last week, Romney told the press that clerks will start requesting proof of residency for all couples, both gay and straight. The even-handed application of the procedure is superfluous, since straight couples may marry regardless of where they live. But according to Romney's strict interpretation, the 1913 law means that no same-sex couples from anywhere in the country may avail themselves of legal marriage in Massachusetts. However, some states, including New York, might well recognise a couple who returned home from a Boston wedding. In March, for example, New York's attorney general issued an informal opinion, concluding, among other things, that New York must recognise same-sex marriages conducted legally elsewhere. On Thursday, Romney sent letters to his counterparts in the 49 other states, as well as to the 49 attorneys general around the country, asking the officials to confirm that same-sex marriage is not legal in their states. According to the Globe, not every politician is inclined to cooperate. A spokesman for Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said Rendell doesn't think Romney has the right to interrogate other states. And an aide to New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid said that Madrid only responds to requests from New Mexico officials. As for New York's Eliot Spitzer, his office said the attorney general was reviewing the letter and had no comment as yet.