- Views & Opinions
As North Dakota’s ban on gay marriage awaits an almost inevitable legal challenge, leaders in the conservative state must decide whether to spend some of its vast oil riches on a court fight — a step they already took to defend another divisive policy.
Six same-sex couples sued South Dakota this week over that state’s ban, leaving North Dakota as the only state not currently facing a lawsuit against its prohibition on gay weddings. Advocates for overturning the ban say it’s a question of when, not if, one is filed.
And, considering the riches of the state’s oil boom, North Dakota could be ready for the battle.
Tom Freier, a former state legislator and the executive director of the North Dakota Family Alliance, which campaigned to bring the same-sex marriage issue to the ballot in 2004, told The Associated Press he is “very comfortable that our attorney general would appeal that.”
A spokeswoman said North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem wasn’t available for comment Friday.
Last year at Stenehjem’s request, North Dakota lawmakers allocated $400,000 to launch what could be a lengthy court battle over the state’s new anti-abortion laws, including one that bans abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected – as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
Records show that the state has spent $234,597 defending new abortion laws, including $154,749 on the fetal heartbeat measure.
“In general, I think our state has shown really a strong preference for where we are on some of these cultural issues. The issues of life, the issues of marriage …,” Freier said.
More than 7 out of 10 North Dakota voters backed a constitutional amendment in 2004 banning same-sex weddings. Now every other state with such a ban has been sued – the latest, neighboring South Dakota.
But some officials say the opposition to same-sex marriage in North Dakota isn’t as strong as it used to be.
Karyn Hippen, the mayor of Thompson, a town of fewer than 1,000 residents, became the first North Dakota mayor to join a national coalition of municipal leaders who support same-sex weddings. Hippen said although a large majority of voters favored the constitutional ban, she believes attitudes have changed.
“I think at the heart of North Dakota, there’s more of a general consensus of equality and fairness,” Hippen said.
Even if North Dakota doesn’t get into a legal battle over gay marriage, the state’s ban could be affected by the South Dakota lawsuit.
Dale Carpenter, a constitutional law professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, said Friday a broad ruling by the 8th Circuit Court on a South Dakota case could overturn North Dakota’s law. He also said the issue of gay marriage is very likely to be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court, making a lawsuit in North Dakota more of a symbolic gesture.
“It’s almost a formality to file a lawsuit against North Dakota at this point,” he said.
Mara Morken Fogarty, a Minnesota resident who works on a board that provides resources to LGBT people in an area that includes Fargo, North Dakota, said it’s a step worth taking.
“What seemed doubtful just a few weeks ago seems possible now,” said Morken Fogarty, who married her partner in August when same-sex marriage became legal in Minnesota.