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Inside Politics

Romney turns to attorney general on same-sex marriages

Massachusetts governor questions legality of applications

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Same-sex marriages
Mitt Romney

BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Gov. Mitt Romney announced Thursday that he has given the state's attorney general evidence of what he described as illegal same-sex marriages in two cities so he can take "whatever action he deems appropriate."

However, Romney, a Republican who opposes same-sex marriage, said he does not expect Attorney General Tom Reilly to take any "punitive" action against either the clerks in Provincetown and Springfield or the couples whose marriages are being questioned.

Still, the move turns up the pressure on city clerks defying his edict not to marry same-sex couples from out of state.

"He can use whatever tools he has at hand to remind the clerks of their obligations to carry out the requirements of the law," Romney said at a news conference. "I don't expect there to be any kind of punitive effort on his part. I would instead expect there to be a corrective effort."

Romney did not say how many applications he was talking about, a legal aide to the governor said it was eight.

Reilly, a Democrat, said the material would be reviewed before he makes any announcement about what action he might take.

"We'll look at the material, conduct a thorough legal review and determine the appropriate action at that time," he said.

Romney said he had talked to the attorney general before making the announcement. But he said he would not "speculate" about what Reilly would do. He did say, however, that it could be a simple as phoning or writing clerks to remind them to follow the law.

The governor also said that in his view, marriages of out-of-state gay and lesbian couples are "null and void," but there would be "no effort on our part to go out and find these people and tell them their marriage is null and void."

However, the governor warned those couples their marriages could be challenged in the future -- by their home states, by employers or even by a spouse trying to get out of the marriage.

"The consequences of people not following the law, unfortunately, is falling on the couples that are entering into a relationship which may be challenged," he said.

On Monday, Massachusetts became the first jurisdiction in the United States to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, after a controversial ruling by the state's Supreme Judicial Court went into effect.

A 1913 state law prohibits couples who don't live in Massachusetts, or plan to move there, from marrying in the Bay State if their marriages would be considered "void" in their home state. Noting that no other state authorizes gay and lesbian marriages, Romney warned local clerks not to issue any marriage licenses to same-sex couples from outside the state.

After clerks in four localities -- Provincetown, Springfield, Worcester and Somerville -- said publicly that they would not enforce the residency provision, Romney asked to see all of the applications made by same-sex couples in those cities to gauge compliance with the law.

A review of records from Provincetown and Springfield turned up eight couples who were issued marriage licenses despite declaring on their "notice to marry" form that they don't live in Massachusetts and don't plan to move to the state. Those cases were forwarded to Reilly, Romney said.

Marriage license documents from Worcester and Somerville have not yet been received for review.

For now, the governor's office is not investigating out-of-state same-sex couples who falsely declared that they planned to live in Massachusetts.

Romney lauded the vast majority of the state's 351 city and town clerks complying with the law.

"There are a very small number of cities and towns where public officials have made statements that they do not intend to abide by the laws of the commonwealth," he said. "I'm not using anything particularly as a threat. The law exists. ... My job as an executive is to fulfill the law and carry it out."

However, the governor also expressed his view that "we should not export same-sex marriage to other states that have 'defense of marriage' acts."

"That would be a not-very-friendly thing to do to our neighboring states," he said.

Proponents of same-sex marriage have said they would challenge the legality of the 1913 law if Romney tried to enforce it.

Responding to the governor's action Thursday, Arlene Isaacson of the Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus urged Romney to spend his time on issues such as improving the economy, housing and jobs -- and leave same-sex couples alone.

Romney and Reilly tussled in March over the governor's last-ditch maneuver to block legalization of same-sex marriages.

Romney wanted the attorney general -- the only elected official authorized to represent the state in legal proceedings -- to petition the Supreme Judicial Court to delay implementation of its ruling allowing same-sex marriages.

Reilly refused, saying there was no legal argument that could be made to ask the high court to revisit the issue.

CNN's Fran Fifis contributed to this report.

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