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Same-sex nuptials validated for NY couples

Amy Zimmerman (left) and partner Tanya Wexler lauded a ruling validating their marriage in Massachusetts. (CHITOSE SUZUKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS/file)

Invoking a little-noticed legal loophole, a Massachusetts judge has legally validated the marriages of at least 150 same-sex couples from New York who wed in Massachusetts between May 17, 2004, when gay marriage became legal here, and July 6, 2006, when gay marriage was declared illegal there.

Until last week, when Suffolk Superior Court Judge Thomas E. Connolly issued his decision, the couples had lived in a legal limbo, because of a 1913 Massachusetts law that bars out-of-state unions that would not be legal in the couple's home state.

"Our marriage has always been alive and well in our hearts, but knowing that Massachusetts now stands behind our marriage is a welcome relief," said a statement from Tanya Wexler and Amy Zimmerman of New York City, one of the plaintiff couples in the case. They were married in Somerville two days after same-sex marriages were legalized in the Bay State.

Advocates for same-sex couples estimate about 150 New York couples, possibly up to 200, may now have valid Massachusetts marriages. Authorities in New York indicated they would not challenge the status of those couples.

The case, brought by eight New York couples, originates with former governor Mitt Romney's use of the 1913 statute to deny marriage licenses to out-of-state gay couples who wed in Massachusetts when the historic court decision took effect three years ago today.

His move was challenged by gay rights advocates, resulting in a 2006 ruling by Connolly saying that Rhode Island was the only state that did not explicitly preclude same-sex marriage. That opened the door for Rhode Island same-sex couples but seemed to shut it for all others.

In the decision, Connolly pointed out that New York couples could not marry here because of a recent New York Court of Appeals ruling prohibiting same-sex marriage.

But the couples' lawyers noticed that the ruling came down on July 6, 2006. They went back to Connolly to make the case that before that date New York had no explicit ban on the practice and that the couples who came here in that time frame had legitimate marriages.

Michele Granda said the exhilaration created by the SJC's same-sex marriage decision prompted many New York couples to come here to tie the knot despite the legal uncertainty.

"It was a breath of fresh air that they could go to another state and marry . . . and experience what it means to be first-class citizens for the first time," said Michele Granda of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, who was lead lawyer in the case.

GLAD lawyers said similar exceptions may exist for couples from New Jersey and New Mexico, though it is unclear whether any couples from those states were married here. No such cases have been filed.

Though the case grew out of previous litigation pitting Massachusetts against out-of state gay couples, new state Attorney General Martha Coakley in this instance sided with the couples.

"We felt it was appropriate that [the New York couples] be included," she said in an interview. "It's an appropriate resolution, and I think it affects a relatively small and discrete number of people."

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