Why North Dakota's Corporate Farming Ban Is Like A Gay Marriage Ban


With the dry weather conditions the field work and Planting is in full gear, Scheepstra farm West of Worthington.

Last week the North Dakota Farm Bureau announced that they would be filing a legal challenge to our state’s ban on non-familial corporate farming (currently corporations and LLC’s can organize to farm or ranch, but only if all involved are no more distantly related than first cousins).

The announcement comes shortly before a June 14 vote on a referendum of law passed by the Legislature loosening the restrictions of the ban for swine and dairy farms. The North Dakota Farmer’s Union, which organized the referendum, is widely expected to be successful. The Farm Bureau’s move was likely intended to avoid looking like their legal challenge was ex post facto sour grapes.


“Farm Bureau slithers off to court,” Fargo Forum columnist Jack Zaleski wrote of the move over the weekend, accusing the group of denying North Dakotans their right to debate this piece of policy:

There still is room for debate whether unrestricted corporate agriculture would be good for North Dakota’s economy, or whether it would forever change for the worse farming and ranching in the state. The debate has been going on for years because the issue is as much cultural as it is economic. However, the Farm Bureau would shut off debate among North Dakotans and place the future of family-based agriculture in the hands of federal courts. How’s that for respecting the citizens of this, the most agricultural of states?

I wonder if Zaleski feels the same way about homosexual activists who challenged state bans on gay marriage in court instead of waiting for legislatures and voters to act?

The two issues aren’t dissimilar in that they both speak to our fundamental right to free association. Just as gay marriage bans denied homosexuals the ability to form government-recognized marriages with same sex partners, North Dakota’s corporate farming ban denies farmers and ranchers the ability to form government-recognized business organizations with non-family partners.

In both instances, you have to wonder why the government has any business restricting who American citizens can choose to associate themselves with. I don’t think the government has any more business telling a private citizen that they can’t marry a same sex partner, or form a ranching corporation with their second cousin, than they do telling a steel worker he or she can’t join a union. Or a citizen that he or she can’t join the NRA or the ACLU.

I have expressed in the past a wish that our country’s legislature’s had acted to strike down bans on homosexual marriages before the courts did. I have said that I wished the activists had acted through the democratic process, as opposed to the judicial one, because social change is most peaceful when it reflects the will of the people instead of the will of lawyers and judges.

But homosexual activists had every right to pursue a remedy to gay marriage bans in court, just as the North Dakota Farm Bureau is perfectly justified in seeking protections for their association rights in court.

While democratic outcomes might be a more peaceful way to enact big social changes, they’re also slow, and when it comes to something as fundamental to our individual liberty as our association rights you can’t blame people for going to the courts.