Love it or hate it, same sex marriage is legal now in all fifty states thanks to a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court.
But today when the North Dakota State Senate attempted to pass SB2043, modifying state law to reflect that lawful marriage in our state is no longer just between a man and a woman, the legislation failed on a 15-31 vote.
Which is embarrassing, I think. Here’s the video of the floor debate:
State Senator Janne Myrdahl, who was just elected from District 10 last year and served as an activist for socially conservative causes prior, carried the bill to the floor. Her argument against the bill was that it’s unnecessary since it only amends statute leaving in place the constitutional ban on gay marriage passed by state voters back in 2004. “The proposed changes..seem arbitrary since the North Dakota Constitution defines marriage as between one man and one woman,” she said.
“We should not redefine in statute what we have defined in the state constitution,” she continued.
But I’m not sure that makes any sense. While I agree we shouldn’t have conflicts between statute and the constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated our state constitution’s definition of marriage. It’s no longer relevant. What’s more, I’m not sure you could say that SB2043 actually redefines anything.
You can read the full text of the bill below, but all it does is change the language in statute to be gender neutral. Which is something Senator Carolyn Nelson, a Democrat, pointed out in her floor comments. These changes would be valid however we’re defining gay marriage.
Democrat Senator John Grabinger warned that North Dakota could face litigation if it doesn’t change laws to reflect the ruling from the courts, but Republican Senators Kelly Armstrong and David Hogue (both lawyers, as it happens) disagreed that there would be any such risk.
Armstrong called the threat of lawsuits a “drastic exaggeration.” Houge said the bill means very little in terms of practical application of the law. “The bill is not necessary,” he said. “The bill doesn’t do anything.”
Armstrong, I should point out, did actually vote yes on the legislation as did a number of other Republicans. Unfortunately, not enough to win the bill.
I can’t imagine why anyone would oppose these changes. Are they maybe little more than symbolic? Perhaps. But in passing these changes we could show that our state accepts the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court and, more importantly, accepts the same sex marriages happening all over our state every day now.
I get that the social conservatives are smarting. This was one of their foundational issues and they lost. But keeping this fight going at this point seems more petty than principled.