With the landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court this June declaring marriage between same-sex couples legal in every state, couples here in North Dakota assume that they can "put a ring on it." Prior to the ruling, North Dakota was one of the minority of states that still banned marriage by same-sex couples.
We're still in the early days following the ruling. However, so far, the responses have varied by county. Cass County has already begun to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. However, other counties in the state, including Ramsey and Grand Forks counties, have said that they are awaiting a decision by a U.S. District Court Judge in Fargo on a case that is pending there.
Opinions in the state about the high court's decision are mixed. Representatives of the North Dakota Family Alliance and the Catholic Diocese of Fargo both reaffirmed their groups' commitment to "traditional marriage." However, State Sen. Mac Schneider of Grand Forks noted that "some rights...can't be taken away by the votes of some representatives. I think it will be a very unpopular decision to vote against equal treatment."
The lawsuits of seven couples are pending in U.S. district court. The couples sued the state for failing to recognize their marriages. After the Supreme Court ruling, the plaintiffs asked the court to lift the stay, which was placed pending the decision by the high court.
On Monday, June 29, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said that his office has no objection to lifting the stay. However, he noted that our state's ban against marriage by same-sex couples will remain in our state constitution until the voters or the legislature determines otherwise.
As we noted recently on this blog, same-sex couples in North Dakota may still face some challenges in areas like adoption, which agencies can deny to them based on religious beliefs. Any couples who run into this or other issues may benefit from legal guidance to help ensure that the rights to which they are entitled are recognized and protected.
Source: Inforum, "North Dakota counties take different approaches to issuing same-sex marriage licenses," amillerbermd, June 27, 2015