North Dakota Gay Marriage Proponents Should Consider The Democratic Process Before A Lawsuit


In 2006 North Dakota voters approved, by a very large majority, a ballot measure that defined marriage in the state constitution as existing only between a man and a woman.

But I think the days are numbered for that section of the state constitution. Legal gay marriage throughout America is inevitable, I think. In fact, an analysis of shifting attitudes about gay marriage indicates that by 2020 the state will have majority support for ending the ban.

Put simply, younger generations of Americans – and North Dakotans specifically – have a much more open-minded view of same sex marriage. As time goes on, that shift in attitudes is going to begin showing up at the ballot box.

Which is a good thing, I think. I don’t think the state has any business defining what is a private, and often religious, union between consenting adults.

That being said, I hope that when gay marriage becomes legal in North Dakota it is because the law was changed through the democratic process, not because one side won in court. A lawyer in Minnesota who is challenging gay marriage bans in other states is considering adding North Dakota to his list.

I hope that doesn’t happen.

Because process matters.

It is better to solve our society’s sticky social issues through our system of representative government. When that happens, there is a sense that the outcome is the result of a fair process. That the people spoke, voices were heard, and change either happened or was resisted.

But when the courts step in, we lose that sense of buy in. The outcome is the will of the judiciary, not the will of the people.

The democratic process can be arduous, and frustrating, but that’s for good reason. The process builds consensus, and while that consensus is never perfect, it’s an outcome people can respect more than judicial fiat.

I hope that the proponents of gay marriage in North Dakota will consider a ballot measure first, or lobbying for change at the Legislature, before filing a lawsuit. That process might take longer, but ultimately I think the outcome would be less divisive.