updated 3/30/2006 1:09:43 PM ET 2006-03-30T18:09:43

The state’s highest court ruled Thursday that same-sex couples from other states cannot legally marry in Massachusetts.

The Supreme Judicial Court, which three years ago made Massachusetts the first state to legalize gay marriage, ruled in a challenge to a 1913 state law that forbids non-residents from marrying in Massachusetts if their marriage would not be recognized in their home state.

“The laws of this commonwealth have not endowed non-residents with an unfettered right to marry,” the court wrote in its 38-page opinion. “Only non-resident couples who come to Massachusetts to marry and intend to reside in this commonwealth thereafter can be issued a marriage license without consideration of any impediments to marriage that existed in their former home states.”

Old law ‘dusted off’
Eight gay couples from surrounding states challenged the law after they were denied marriage licenses in Massachusetts.

In oral arguments before the high court in October, a lawyer for the couples argued that the 1913 law sat unused for decades and was “dusted off” by Gov. Mitt Romney in an attempt to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Romney ordered city and town clerks to enforce the 1913 law after the first same-sex marriages were performed in Massachusetts in May 2004.

Attorneys for the state said Massachusetts risks a backlash if it ignores the laws of other states by allowing same-sex couples to marry here when such unions are prohibited in their own states.

More than 6,000 gay couples have tied the knot in Massachusetts since the court’s landmark ruling in 2003 that under the Massachusetts Constitution, same-sex couples have the same right to marry as heterosexual couples.

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