Cambridge will have to wait for the Massachusetts legislature to act on last week’s state court decision allowing same-sex marriages, despite an earlier proposal by two city councillors to begin issuing licenses to gay couples immediately.
But in a unanimous affirmation of the court’s ruling, the City Council passed an order at last night’s meeting calling on the city clerk to be ready to give out the licenses to same sex couples “as soon as legally possible.”
“This is an exciting time and I want to move forward as quickly as we can,” said Councillor Brian P. Murphy ’86-’87.
The council’s vote came after a landmark ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) last Tuesday that affirmed the right of same sex couples to be afforded the benefits married heterosexual couples are awarded. The court stayed the decision for 180 days to give the legislature time to align its laws with the ruling.
The day after last week’s decision was announced, Councillors Murphy and E. Denise Simmons said they would propose a resolution instructing the city to issue licenses before the end of the stay period.
But Murphy said that after conferring with lawyers—including some from the New England gay rights group that brought the case before the SJC—the councillors decided that passing such a resolution might prompt legal opposition from Gov. W. Mitt Romney and delay the licenses for longer than the 180-day period.
“It made sense not to risk a tactical setback,” Murphy said after the meeting. “It was more logistics than anything else.”
David Barron, an assistant professor at Harvard Law School, said yesterday that any Cambridge decision to issue licenses before the state legislature took action was likely to be overturned.
“Under the state constitution the city probably lacks the legal authority at the present time, in my view, to issue a license,” he said.
City Solicitor Donald A. Drisdell told the council last night that the amended language would not present a legal problem.
Cambridge’s eagerness to take advantage of the court ruling would have defied an order from the state public health department prohibiting cities from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples until after the six-month stay period. Romney told the Associated Press last week that any licenses issued during this time would be considered invalid.
Several local TV stations—and even a reporter from Florida’s St. Petersburg Times—covered the meeting in City Hall last night.
Simmons, an openly gay councillor who intends to seek her own marriage license once it is legal, said she was disappointed that gay couples would have to wait six months to obtain a legal union.
“When you’re in a community that has been denied their rights and privileges for such a long time, then you will understand our impatience,” she said. “Whether the state wants to give us licenses or not, I think Cambridge should do it anyway.”
But she added later in the meeting that she was in favor of the amended resolution because it would carry more weight if it had the full support of the council.