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The Supreme Court and same-sex marriage in North Dakota

The recent U.S. Supreme Court's decision not to hear federal appeals cases involving same-sex marriage in five states has led to a legalization of same-sex marriage in more than half of the states. As of Oct. 17, according to the Pew Research Center, same-sex couples can now or very shortly legally marry in 31 states and Washington, D.C.

North Dakota, which has a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, is not one of those states. However, supporters of same-sex marriage in our state still see the decision by the nation's high court as a good sign for the future of North Dakota gay couples who want to tie the knot. North Dakota's first openly-gay state representative, Fargo's Joshua Boschee, called the decision not to weigh in on the individual cases a "tipping point."

North Dakota's U.S. senators expressed divergent views of the possible implications of the decision for the state. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, said that by not taking up these cases, "the Supreme Court has sent a clear signal that it doesn't need to step in and that the lower courts are making sound legal decisions." Meanwhile, Republican Sen. John Hoeven, through a spokesperson, maintained that the decision "has no effect on North Dakota's constitutional amendment...because a federal court has not ruled on our law."

A North Dakota federal judge currently has two cases before him in which the plaintiffs contend that the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. It remains to be seen what his next step is. He could ask both sides to present oral arguments or rule on the documents already submitted in the case. Wayne Stenehjem, North Dakota's attorney general, notes that the Supreme Court decision "deals with circuits that do not include North Dakota."

As same-sex couples in North Dakota wait to find out whether they can wed, many have legal issues that can't wait, including child support and custody, adoption and financial and property matters. North Dakota family law attorneys can help couples handle these matters regardless of their legal status as a couple.

Source: The Bismarck Tribune, "N.D. officials respond to Supreme Court decision" Karee Magee, Oct. 08, 2014

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