U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro wrote in his opinion, ”The Supreme Judicial Court (of Massachusetts) has the authority to interpret and reinterpret if necessary the term marriage as it appears in the Massachusetts constitution.”
The plaintiffs immediately announced they would take their case to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Tauro heard arguments Wednesday on a petition led by the Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based group opposed to gay marriage. The Catholic Action League, 11 state lawmakers and conservative legal groups in Boston, Michigan and Mississippi also joined the petition.
Mathew Staver, president and general counsel of the Liberty Counsel, argued that the Massachusetts high court overstepped its bounds when it ruled in November that gay marriage should be legal in the state. He asked the federal judge to “prevent this constitutional train wreck.”
Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General Peter Sacks, arguing on behalf of the court, said its ruling was based on an interpretation of the state constitution, and the case does not belong in federal court.
“These are pure questions of state law,” Sacks said. “There is no jurisdictional basis for this court to intervene or second-guess the [Supreme Judicial Court’s] ruling on a core matter of state law.”
Meanwhile, local governments prepared to begin accepting marriage applications from gay couples on May 17. Cities and towns are wrestling with how to respond to Gov. Mitt Romney’s warnings that same-sex unions will be limited to state residents.
Boston’s chief lawyer Merita Hopkins said the city will not offer marriage licenses to out-of-state couples.
However, officials said the city would not require proof of residency. Couples would instead be required to fill out a form saying they plan to move to Massachusetts, and sign the form under penalty of perjury. A spokesman for Romney declined to comment on Boston’s decision, according to the Associated Press.
Officials in Cambridge and Northampton, a western Massachusetts city with a large gay population, also said they would follow Romney’s guidelines.
Worcester, the state’s second-largest city; Provincetown on Cape Cod; and the Boston suburb of Somerville plans to issue licenses to out-of-state couples.
In attempting to prevent out-of-state marriages, Romney said he was insuring that the state adhered to a 1913 state law that prohibits couples from marrying in Massachusetts if their marriage would not be legal in their home state. No other state recognizes same-sex marriage. It remains unclear how strictly that law will be enforced.
Regarding a warning from Romney that clerks who marry out-of-state gay couples could face legal action, Cape Cod’s top prosecutor Michael O’Keefe said, “I don’t know frankly which aspect of any of that would rise to the level of criminal conduct,” according to a report in the Cape Cod Times.