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Judge rules gay R.I. couple has right to marry in Mass. because home state has no specific ban

By DENISE LAVOIE Associated Press

BOSTON -- A gay couple from Rhode Island has the right to marry in Massachusetts because laws in their home state do not expressly prohibit same-sex marriage, a judge ruled Friday.

Wendy Becker and Mary Norton of Providence, R.I., argued that a 1913 law that forbids out-of-state residents from marrying in Massachusetts if their marriage would not be permitted in their home state did not apply to them because Rhode Island does not specifically ban gay marriage.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Connolly agreed.

"No evidence was introduced before this court of a constitutional amendment, statute, or controlling appellate decision from Rhode Island that explicitly deems void or otherwise expressly forbids same-sex marriage," he ruled.

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which represented the couples, hailed the decision ‘‘as another step toward marriage equality."

State Attorney General Thomas Reilly said he would not appeal Connolly's ruling. Reilly's office had argued that Rhode Island laws' use of gender-specific terms -- including both "bride'' and "groom'' -- made it clear that the laws' intent was to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

But in a statement after Connolly's ruling was issued, Reilly said appealing the decision would be a waste of time and money, adding, "This case has always been about respecting the laws of other states."

After Massachusetts became the first state in the country to legalize gay marriage in 2004, couples from many other states began lining up to get marriage licenses here. But Gov. Mitt Romney directed municipal clerks not to give licenses to out-of-state couples, citing the 1913 law.

Eight couples from six nearby states challenged the law. In March, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Massachusetts could use the 1913 law to bar gay couples from Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont from marrying here. But the court said the law was unclear in New York and Rhode Island, and sent that part of the case back to a lower court for clarification.

In July, New York state's highest court said that its state law limits marriage to between a man and a woman. Connolly cited the New York court's decision in his ruling, saying that state expressly prohibits gay marriage. That left only the Rhode Island couples free to marry in Massachusetts.

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