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Governor Mitt Romney announced his bid to stay the Supreme Judicial Court decision yesterday at the State House.
Governor Mitt Romney announced his bid to stay the Supreme Judicial Court decision yesterday at the State House. (Globe Staff Photo / George Rizer)

Romney seeks authority to delay same-sex marriage

Legislature poised to reject governor’s bill

Governor Mitt Romney yesterday asked the Legislature for special authority to seek a stay of the Supreme Judicial Court’s landmark ruling that legalized samesex marriage, but Senate President Robert E. Travaglini immediately dismissed his request as an attempt “to accommodate a political agenda.”

While Romney clearly wants the Legislature to pass his measure, he conceded that if the bill he filed yesterday is rejected, samesex couples will be able to wed starting May 17, when the court’s ruling goes into effect.

“If the Legislature refuses, so far as I know and based on the best judgment I have at this point, it’s done,” Romney said.

Romney said his administration has been preparing for legalized gay marriage by scheduling training sessions for city and town clerks from May 5 to 12, and by ordering new, gender-neutral marriage certificates. At a news conference, however, he described what he saw as several legal complications stemming from gay marriage, including those arising from a 1913 state law that prevents out-of-state couples from getting married in Massachusetts if the union would be illegal in their home state.

From a political standpoint, the governor’s effort appeared designed to demonstrate one last time that he tried to block gays from marrying in this state, and to give him room to blame the Democrat-run Legislature for refusing to allow him even to ask the SJC to stay its ruling. Current law allows only the attorney general’s office to appear before the SJC on behalf of the state, and Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly has declined a Romney request to do so.

But given the cool reception to Romney’s proposal from legislative leaders, it appears the governor’s bill has dim prospects at best. Travaglini, the harshest critic of Romney’s proposal, said the state Senate has little inclination to undo a centuries-old state law to allow the governor to go around Reilly and appeal directly to the SJC. House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran said Romney’s bill would get a fair hearing by the House Judiciary Committee, but he would not say when that would occur.

‘‘We are focused on other pressing matters presently that take all of our time and energy,’’ Travaglini said, referring to the budget and the impending eviction of about 2,000 low-income housing residents. Asked if the Senate would not take up the bill even if the House passed it, Travaglini said, ‘‘I think that’s a fair observation.’’

Finneran added: ‘‘We’ve been focused on the budget these past couple of weeks and we have a lot to do in that regard. And we’re going to make sure that we focus, we stay focused on that.’’

Nonetheless, Romney’s strategy won praise from conservatives here and nationwide. Jan LaRue, chief counsel for ConcernedWomen for America, said in a press release yesterday that the author of the state’s constitution, John Adams, ‘‘would be proud of Governor Romney.’’

And Ronald A. Crews, spokesman for the Coalition for Marriage, an umbrella group fighting to overturn the SJC decision, said, ‘‘We do commend him for this action. I believe that he is absolutely right, he deserves representation just like any other citizen in the Commonwealth.’’

After the Legislature passed a proposed constitutional amendment last month that would ban gay marriage and establish civil unions, Romney argued that the court should stay its ruling until voters had a chance to define marriage in a referendum, a vote that cannot happen until November 2006 at the earliest. Romney said it would be confusing and unfair to perform gay marriages for more than two years, only to see voters decide to nullify such vows afterward.

But Reilly refused to argue for a stay on Romney’s behalf, saying the court had been abundantly clear in its ruling.

Yesterday, Reilly stood by his decision and urged the governor to ‘‘move on.’’

‘‘Let’s do our jobs, and leave it to the people to have their final say,’’ Reilly said, referring to the proposed constitutional amendment. ‘‘I think the governor’s frustrated right now, but he has to accept and respect the rule of law. We all take an oath in these jobs, and whether we like the decision or not, we take an oath to uphold the law.’’

But Romney said the court’s ruling, and the possibility that voters will overturn it in 2006, raise several legal questions that make the situation extremely confusing. He placed the blame for the confusion on the Legislature, which has yet to follow a directive from the SJC to change the state’s marriage laws to reflect the legalization of same-sex matrimony.

‘‘I believe the reason that the court gave 180 days to the Legislature [following its ruling] was to allow the Legislature the chance to look through all of the laws developed over the centuries and see how they should be adjusted or clarified for purposes of same-sex marriage; the Legislature didn’t do that,’’ Romney said. ‘‘Without an extension of the stay, it leaves to the executive branch . . . the responsibility to sort out as well as we can how we can interpret and execute these laws.’’

Senator Bruce E. Tarr, Republican of Gloucester, said he believes the Legislature will ultimately pass bills that will insert genderneutral language into the state’s marriage laws in time for the May 17 deadline.

‘‘No one should interpret inaction thus far with the idea that no action is forthcoming,’’ he said.

Reilly, at his press conference, said his office has communicated regularly with Romney’s administration, offering legal guidance on how to implement the court’s ruling since early March. He said any implication by Romney that the situation is overly confusing is hyperbole.

‘‘This isn’t all that hard,’’ Reilly said. ‘‘A half-day’s training would do it.’’

Yesterday, Romney complained that under current law, he has to rely on Reilly to petition the court — ‘‘someone independently elected that happens to be from another party.’’

‘‘Look, people that don’t have any income are entitled to representation. Everyone in the Commonwealth is entitled to representation, but somehow as governor of the Commonwealth it’s deemed that I can’t represent my view before the courts. I think that’s amistake,’’ Romney said.

Romney wants his case to be argued by former SJC justice Joseph R. Nolan, who argued alongside Romney yesterday that the proposed amendment presents ‘‘compelling reasons’’ for a stay.

‘‘Something highly significant has happened; it’s just not another change of circumstance,’’ Nolan said. ‘‘It is a significant change of circumstance, and for that reason I think the court should give some consideration.’’

Arline Isaacson, cochairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, said Romney was ‘‘beginning to act like a religious zealot.’’

‘‘He won’t let go of this, even when the attorney general, who doesn’t support gay marriage, who fought it tooth and nail, is saying that there is no legal basis to pursue this in court,’’ Isaacson said. ‘‘We’re going to work very hard, of course, to kill this in the Legislature, and we think we have a very good chance of being able to do so.’’

Globe correspondent Matthew Rodriguez contributed to this report. 

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