In 2004 a constitutional amendment defining marriage in North Dakota as one man and one woman passed on the statewide ballot with 73 percent of the vote. That definition of marriage is reflected in a lot of places in the state code which refers to husbands and wives.
But in 2017 we are living in a world where gay marriage, per a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, is legal. As state lawmakers begin their work in the 2017 session today they’ll consider a bill which will change the definition in state statute.
The bill is SB2043, and it emerges from the Senate Judiciary Committee. You can read it here, but it’s basically just a lot of crossing out old references to heterosexual unions and replacing them with gender neutral verbiage.
Committee Chairman Senator David Hogue, a Republican from Minot, told my colleague John Hageman that while he doesn’t like the Supreme Court’s decision he felt there”are simply too many references to husband and wife, so I think it should be changed.”
What’s missing is legislation to amend Article XI, Section 28 of the state constitution which, thanks to that 2004 amendment, states this:
Gay marriage has long been a divisive issue, both in our state and our country, but the matter is settled now. Even outside of the rulings from the courts, our society’s view of same sex marriages has shifted.
SB2043 will go a long way toward our state embracing that new reality. What would help further, though, is a constitutional amendment to remove the above language as well. Since that would need to be approved by a vote of the people, it would give North Dakotans a chance to validate the court rulings through the democratic process.
So far, however, I see no such legislation to amend the state constitution filed for the 2017 session.