Clarence Olson Column: Will Gay Marriages Ever Be Recognized In North Dakota?


There are eighteen states across the United States, with Illinois becoming the 18th on June 1 of this year, in which same-sex marriages will be allowed to be performed and will be recognized by those respective state’s laws as being legal.

As a matter of policy, North Dakota has long forbidden same-sex marriages from being performed.  Along with that, all same-sex marriages performed in other states and/or countries in which they may legally be performed, are not recognized by law in North Dakota.

The people of North Dakota have enshrined into the state constitution that legal marriage can only consist of “the legal union between a man and a woman. No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect.” So says Article XI, Section 28.

The constitutional prohibition against same-sex marriage in North Dakota was placed into the constitution during the November 2004 general election. Voters overwhelmingly ratified an amendment to the constitution, which had been proposed by the Legislature during the 2003 session. The ballot measure passed by almost 74 percent of the vote. It received 223,572 yes votes (73.23 percent) to 81,716 no votes (26.77 percent).

Minnesota recently joined a handful of states that allow legal same-sex marriages to take place. Unfortunately, for gay couples who are residents of North Dakota, a legal marriage that they consummate in Minnesota or any place else which recognizes same sex marriages isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on once they return to North Dakota to continue residing.  This is because North Dakota does not legally recognize same-sex marriages, both because of the aforementioned constitutional prohibition as well as the statutory prohibition against same-sex marriages.  The people of North Dakota have raised the bar very high on this issue.

If anyone wants to see this issue raised in North Dakota, they should have the courage of their convictions and go about the task of sponsoring an initiated ballot measure to repeal the constitutional prohibition against same-sex marriages in the state. And then sponsor a second, companion initiated ballot measure to repeal the state law that also prohibits same-sex marriages from being solemnized in North Dakota. The law is codified in the North Dakota Century Code.  A reminder, same-sex marriages could not be either performed or recognized in North Dakota until such time as both the constitutional prohibition and the statutory prohibition against same-sex marriages were repealed.

I’m afraid those who support same-sex marriages will find out that Minnesota and North Dakota are on opposite sides of the spectrum on this issue. Those people will find that a solid majority of North Dakotans will not want to repeal the prohibition against same-sex marriage, and would prefer to keep things as they are. They would indeed face a David and Goliath-like task at getting either or both the state constitutional amendment as well as the state law repealed.

For the record, I would like to point out that I am a born again Christian.  That being said, I personally could not support any efforts to legalize same-sex marriages in North Dakota.  However, in no way does this mean that I hate gay people.  Not at all.

In fact, I have a number of colleagues at the place of business where I work who happen to be gay, and I would have to say that we get along in the workplace just fine.  The subject of their individual sexual preferences just doesn’t come up, and I would prefer to keep it that way.  Do I treat them any differently on a day-to-day basis?  Absolutely not.  Do I respect them?  Mostly, yes.  However, I cannot in due conscience respect the sinful and clearly unbiblical lifestyle they’ve chosen to embrace.  Do gay people have rights?  Absolutely, they do.

Will there ever be a day when North Dakota joins that alarmingly-fast growing list?  It’s very difficult to say, but given the ultraconservative nature of North Dakota in general; if I were a betting man, I would have to say the odds are still pretty strong against North Dakota joining this list.