BOSTON Massachusetts lawmakers cleared the way for out-of-state same-sex couples to marry in the state by voting on Tuesday to repeal a 1913 law that banned marriages not considered valid in the couples' home states.
Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat whose daughter has come out as a lesbian, has said he plans to sign the repeal measure.
The Massachusetts House of Representatives approved the repeal by a vote of 118-35. The state Senate approved it earlier this month.
"While we'll never get complacent, we're getting close to the point where the question of marriage equality in Massachusetts is settled," said Marc Solomon, executive director of MassEquality, a statewide group that promotes the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
"You'll never get everyone to vote your way, but 118 to 35 is getting close," he said.
Massachusetts in 2004 became the first U.S. state to permit legal marriages of same-sex couples, but then-Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, told state officials to obey the 1913 law, which dates back to a time when some American states banned interracial marriages.
In June, California, the most populous U.S. state, began marrying same-sex couples. It issues marriage licenses to couples from other states.
Opponents of same-sex marriage said the vote amounted to an attempt to impose gay marriage on other states.
"Just after California allowed out-of-state same-sex couples to marry, it appears our legislators are suffering from 'gay marriage envy' in pushing to repeal this protective measure," said Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute. "Their arrogance and folly are doing terrible harm to marriage laws across the country and eroding the people's right to define marriage."
Legislators who voted for the repeal described the move as a matter of fairness, noting Massachusetts for decades had ignored the law when heterosexual couples sought to marry in the state.
"This law has not been enforced, looked upon or even talked about ... it should not be allowed to prevent gay and lesbian couples and their families from taking part in what is rightfully and legally theirs," said Paul Loscocco, a Republican who voted in favor of the repeal. "This law has applied a double standard to certain couples and it needs to be repealed."
Opponents of the effort said allowing out-of-state same-sex couples to wed in Massachusetts could leave them in legal limbo.
"If the 1913 law is repealed, we would be leading ourselves into a legal nightmare," said Rep. John Lepper, a Republican who voted against repeal.
He cited the example of a couple who married in Massachusetts and later moved to Rhode Island. They now wish to divorce, but the neighboring state will not grant one since it does not recognize same-sex marriage and Massachusetts will not grant it since the people are no longer residents of the state.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)