Attorney General Martha Coakley on Monday authorized a ballot question proposing to reinstate a nearly century-old law barring out-of-state gay couples from marrying in Massachusetts.
The so-called 1913 law was repealed by the Legislature in late June.
In her ruling, Coakley said the question’s supporters, MassResistance, had met the necessary technical requirement for filing a ballot question. The group must now gather 33,000 signatures by the end of October to appear on the November 2010 ballot.
Coakley differentiated between her official duties and any personal feeling she may have on the issue.
“Our decision that this referendum meets the constitutional requirements as to subject matter does not mean that it has our support, but simply that the constitutional requirements are met for the proponents of the referendum to obtain further signatures,” Coakley said in a statement.
Her predecessor, former Attorney General Tom Reilly, issued a similar statement in 2005 when he authorized a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage among Massachusetts residents.
Gay couples have been allowed to legally wed since May 2004, six months after the Supreme Judicial Court said same-sex couples had the same right as heterosexual couples to marry.
In the aftermath of that ruling, then-Gov. Mitt Romney used the 1913 law to bar city and town clerks from issuing marriage licenses to out-of-state couples. The law declared it illegal for couples to get married in Massachusetts if their unions would be illegal in their home states.
The House and Senate voted in June to repeal the law. Gov. Deval Patrick signed the repeal, saying it eliminated a law once used to ban interracial marriage.
Brian Camenker of the group MassResistance said last week that lawmakers and Gov. Deval Patrick bowed to the will of the “gay lobby” last month by approving the repeal of a 1913 statute that banned such marriages.
“The Legislature and the governor changed our marriage laws to please the well-connected minority and force a social experiment into other states that’s very offensive to a majority of the people, at least the way the votes have been going,” Camenker said, referring to recent votes in favor of gay marriage bans in other states.
One prominent same-sex marriage opponent, Kris Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said his group is not participating in the referendum effort “because there is no winning on this issue.”
Mineau said that since the Legislature attached an emergency preamble that put the repeal into effect immediately, opponents had no chance suspend it until a 2010 referendum. He also said that the Legislature and governor, who he said are “bent on exporting the same-sex marriage experiment” could easily repeal the law again in 2011 if a referendum were successful.
The state constitution prohibits referendum questions on subjects that relate to religion, judges, the courts, particular localities of the commonwealth, state appropriations and certain provisions of the constitution’s Declaration of Rights.
Gay marriage advocates who had celebrated the repeal said they were disappointed but not surprised by the petition.
“I’ve learned that when it comes to equality for gay and lesbian people, the struggle is never over because there are certain people that are just strongly opposed to any rights for gay people,” said Marc Solomon of MassEquality. “It’s never shocking; it is disappointing.”
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