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Couples Elated as Lynch Says R.I. Law Recognizes Massachusetts Marriages
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- As soon as Judi and Lee McNeil-Beckwith got word that the state attorney general believes Rhode Island would recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, they cried, hugged and excitedly called friends and family. Then, they jumped in the car.

"We've wanted to get married, but we didn't want an empty piece of paper. We needed the attorney general on our side," Lee, 40, said Monday evening, just hours after returning from Worcester, Mass., where she and Judi, her partner of seven years, applied for a marriage license.

"We just wanted to take the first step as soon as we could," said Judi, 52, holding a fresh bouquet of yellow daisies. The couple, who live in Providence, changed their names a few years ago when they bought a house together.

On Monday, as Massachusetts began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch said that under his interpretation, Rhode Island would recognize any marriage legally performed in another state, as long as the marriage wasn't contrary to public policy.

Lee and Judi saw Lynch's statement as a green light to cross the border and apply for a license, over objections from Gov. Don Carcieri, who opposes gay marriage and who was advising gay couples to wait.

"I came out 21 years ago, and I never thought this day would happen," said Lee. "I needed to take advantage of the historic moment."

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has said his state's law prohibits out-of-state couples from marrying there if the marriage would be illegal in their home state. He told town clerks they could not issue marriage licenses without proof of Massachusetts residency, though officials in at least four counties, including Worcester, defied the order.

In his opinion, Lynch said courts or the General Assembly would determine whether same-sex marriage was contrary to public policy. He also left it to the courts to decide whether same-sex marriages can be legally performed in Rhode Island.

He said to date, the only marriages that are void in Rhode Island are those involving bigamy, incest or mental incompetence, or marriages in which one or both parties never intended to be married.

Rhode Island is one of seven states where the statutes make no specific reference to gender in their marriage laws, but also do not affirmatively allow gay marriage. Lynch advised same-sex couples in Rhode Island to consult with a private attorney before seeking marriage licenses in Massachusetts.

Legal analysts told The Associated Press that Lynch's opinion was strictly advisory and the issue would ultimately be decided by the courts. Rhode Island lawmakers also are considering opposing bills on same-sex marriages. Among the measures, one would define marriage as between a man and a woman, while another would legalize same-sex marriages and recognize such unions performed in another state.

Upon returning to Rhode Island from Worcester City Hall, the McNeil-Beckwiths joined nearly 100 supporters of same-sex marriage in a Providence park for a celebration of the Massachusetts nuptials. In between cheers and music, the jubilant crowd -- some wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words "I do" or "Civil Marriage Civil Rights" -- raised plastic champagne glasses and toasted their northern neighbors.

"We wish them long and happy lives together," said Chris Butler, a representative of the Campaign for Marriage Equality. "This is a very special day."

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