Provincetown officials said yesterday that they will temporarily suspend issuing marriage licenses to out-of-state gay couples, but vowed to continue fighting a state law that Governor Mitt Romney has cited to halt same-sex marriages of out-of-staters.
"We firmly believe that it is unlawful and unconstitutional to deny out-of-state same-sex couples the right to marry in Massachusetts," said Provincetown Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Cheryl Andrews. But, she said, there is disagreement over the "appropriate interpretation" of a 1913 statute that Romney says forbids marriages of out-of-state gay couples. The statute bars all unions that would not be legal in a couple's home state.
"We look forward to making our arguments known to the attorney general," Andrews said.
A mecca for gays at the tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown was one of four communities that openly defied Romney's order not to issue licenses to nonresidents when same-sex marriage became legal May 17. After Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly wrote a letter last week threatening legal action, it was the last of the four communities to comply.
Since last week, Provincetown has issued 217 licenses to gay couples, 14 from out of state.
In the letter sent to Provincetown, Somerville, Worcester, and Springfield, Reilly ordered the municipalities to "cease and desist" issuing licenses to out-of-state gay couples.
Gretchen Van Ness, the attorney Provincetown recently hired to represent it on the issue of same-sex marriage, said town officials are weighing their legal options. They must first respond to Reilly's request for an explanation of the town's policy on out-of-state licenses. The policy, which was adopted by the Board of Selectmen before May 17, states that the town should not turn away same-sex couples because it has never turned away heterosexual couples. Meanwhile, clerks in Attleboro and Fall River confirmed that they were also granting licenses to out-of-state couples. They have not been contacted by Reilly, and a Romney spokesman would not comment on whether the governor plans to take action.
In another development, the clerks in Provincetown, Somerville, and Worcester have been sued by former Boston mayor Raymond Flynn and Thomas Shields, chairman of the Coalition for Marriage, a group that opposes gay marriage. That complaint seeks enforcement of the 1913 statute.