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R.I., Conn. may grant recognition

The attorneys general of Rhode Island and Connecticut yesterday raised the possibility that Massachusetts same-sex marriages will be honored in their states, a sign that the Supreme Judicial Court's landmark ruling legalizing gay matrimony may soon shift the legal ground in other states.

The opinions, while not binding, further complicate a central question surrounding the dawn of same-gender marriage in Massachusetts: Whether out-of-state couples have a right to marry here, and whether any gay weddings performed here will be recognized in other jurisdictions.

Scores of gay couples from Connecticut, Rhode Island, and beyond arrived in Massachusetts yesterday to apply for marriage licenses in sympathetic places like such as Worcester, Provincetown, and Somerville. But Governor Mitt Romney's administration appears to be already taking steps to nullify marriages by nonresidents.

Romney Earlier this month, Romney told the governors and attorneys general of the 49 other states that Massachusetts would not allow same-sex couples from their states to marry here unless those state officials informed him that gay marriage is legal in their states.

In response, a few governors and attorneys general, such as Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, wrote back to Romney, agreeing with his approach and praising his stand against gay marriage.

Yesterday Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch of Rhode Island said his state would probably honor "any marriage validly performed in another state," and noted that "the only marriages in Rhode Island deemed void involve bigamy, incest, or mental incompetence, or marriages in which one or both parties never intended to be married."

In addition, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told Romney in a letter that same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts are not "automatically void" in his state "because our state has no statute declaring same-sex marriage void."

Blumenthal and Lynch, both Democrats, also noted that the questions raised by gay marriages in Massachusetts will probably be answered by the courts.

The statements by Lynch and Blumenthal followed a similar opinion by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer of New York, who said the law in his state requires that couples who are legally married in other jurisdictions "must be treated as spouses."

A spokeswoman for Romney said that the opinions of the Connecticut and Rhode Island attorneys general, like Spitzer's before, would not alter Romney's position that nonresidents cannot legally marry in Massachusetts unless at least one member of the couple is a resident or the couple plans to move to the Bay State.

"They cannot come here to marry unless they intend to reside here," said spokeswoman Shawn Feddeman.

According to a Globe survey, 1 of 10 of the same-sex applicants for marriage licenses yesterday came from out of state.

But the survey made clear that out-of-state couples gravitated toward municipalities such as Provincetown, Somerville, and Worcester, where clerks had publicly stated their willingness to marry out-of-state couples.

In Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Newton, and Northampton, almost all of the couples said that at least one of the partners lives in Massachusetts.

But one-third of the couples surveyed in Provincetown and one-quarter of those surveyed in Somerville and Worcester, said they live out of state.

It appears that Romney administration lawyers are taking action to seek nullification of marriage licenses issued to out-of-staters once the licenses are delivered to the state Registry of Vital Records and Statistics.

Worcester City Clerk David J. Rushford said a top Romney administration lawyer called the city solicitor seeking all copies of marriage applications filed yesterday, Rushford said. Worcester had announced earlier that it would ignore Romney's policy to shun out-of-state same-sex couples.

"We can imagine they want to start the process of invalidating things," said Rushford, who married a Connecticut gay couple yesterday. "This is where we disagree."

Feddeman declined to comment.

Despite the uncertainty and confusion, the statements issued by Lynch and Blumenthal had an immediate impact on some nonresident couples.

As soon as they heard Lynch's opinion, Lee and Judi McNeil-Beckwith, registered nurses who live in Providence, got in their car and drove to Worcester City Hall to apply for a license.

"We were clear that if it would be honored in our home state, we would get married," Lee said.

In Provincetown, Shirley Bernstein, 60, and her partner Lula Blockton, 57, arrived from their home in Hampton, Conn., to apply for a marriage license. They said they had no intention of staying in Massachusetts.

"We're staying in Connecticut," said Bernstein, who has lived with Blockton for more than 30 years. "There's a lot of us in Connecticut," Blockton said of gays and lesbians. "If we can present ourselves as an example, maybe we can put pressure on [Connecticut] changing the laws."

In Northampton's City Hall, Christine Cintron-Pecoraro, 47, and her partner Ivonne Cintron-Pecoraro, 48, of New York City, said they came here to marry though they had no intention of moving to Massachusetts. But the clerks didn't know it.

"We are not planning to move here, and we did lie on the certificate," Christine Cintron-Pecoraro said. The couple plans to test New York's ban on same-sex marriage immediately.

"As soon as we get back today, we are going to challenge the law," she said. "I think our chances are very good in New York. It tends to be a very liberal state. And I know there are many other couples that plan on challenging with us."

Out-of-state couples arriving at municipal clerks' offices yesterday in search of marriage licenses met with mixed signals.

Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone said he believes the 1913 statute that Romney says restricts marriage to residents is unconstitutional.

"This is the easiest issue I've had to face as mayor," said Curtatone, who said he plans to attend the same-sex wedding of a couple who are his neighbors on Thursday. "We are not going to use a law, the motive for which was to stop interracial marriages. We're welcoming everybody."

But even as Curtatone's city embraced out-of-staters, they received an "informational notice" that said, "Please be aware that if you are issued a certificate of marriage, it is possible that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics may refuse to accept and record the completed certificate."

"If you have concerns regarding this information," the notice concluded, "you should consult with an attorney."

Kate Montiero, president of the Rhode Island Alliance for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, said the Rhode Island attorney general's statement was significant because, if nothing else, it showed that Rhode Island laws will protect the new marriage rights of gay and lesbian Massachusetts residents now getting married.

"We're very pleased," Montiero said. "It certainly is our understanding of the law that Rhode Island has never picked and chosen among marriages from Massachusetts that it would recognize, and we are happy to hear that the attorney general does not believe Rhode Island will start doing that."

Contributing to this report were Globe staff reporters Jonathan Saltzman, Douglas Belkin, Michael Paulson, and Globe correspondent Brendan McCarthy.  

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