Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage

BISMARCK -- Gay rights supporters in North Dakota celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in favor of same-sex marriage Friday, a historic decision that overturns the state's ban on those unions.

BISMARCK -- Gay rights supporters in North Dakota celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in favor of same-sex marriage Friday, a historic decision that overturns the state's ban on those unions.

Friday's decision came 11 years after almost three-fourths of North Dakota voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Friday morning North Dakota will follow the Supreme Court's ruling.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex marriage is legal throughout the nation, and we will abide by this federal mandate," he said in a one-sentence statement.

Yet the ruling raised some immediate technical questions among local government officials in the hours after it came down. Grand Forks County staff said Friday morning they had not received direction from the State's Attorney's office on how to handle marriage applications, while officials in other counties said they were ready to provide the licenses to gay couples.

But later Friday, Grand Forks County State's Attorney David Jones said same-sex couples could be granted a license here.


"My view on it is it's the law of the land at this point," he said.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem pointed to pending cases before a federal judge when asked how the Supreme Court's ruling would affect North Dakota.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson put a case challenging North Dakota's ban on same-sex marriage on hold in January until the Supreme Court ruled on the matter. A clerk for Erickson said Friday he was "not in a position to comment on the case right now."

"Where this goes from here is, I guess, up to him to determine whether he's ready to issue a ruling right now or whether he might want further briefing from the parties," Stenehjem said Friday morning before reading the court's decision. "Once he issues that order, that will inform officials what it is that is required of them."

Still, Stenehjem noted the Supreme Court's ruling "overrides any conflicting state, constitutional or statutory provisions."

Joshua Newville, the attorney for seven couples challenging North Dakota's gay marriage ban, said Friday afternoon there is "no question" about whether same-sex couples had the right to marry, with or without an order from Erickson.

"It shouldn't take that order from Judge Erickson to put marriage equality into North Dakota," he said. "That happened this morning when the U.S. Supreme Court declared as a matter of constitutional that marriage equality is the law of the land."

'Beyond thrilled' to 'disappointed'


Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said she was "beyond thrilled" by the Supreme Court's decision.

"Today is an historic day for equal rights, for justice, and for individuals and couples across the country who can no longer be treated differently because of who they love," she said in a statement.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., was disappointed in the ruling.

"I, like many others across America, am disappointed by today's Supreme Court ruling approving same-sex marriage, and believe as a matter of religious principle that marriage is the union between one man and one woman," he said in a statement.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said it was "another example of activist judges overstepping their authority."

"The current justices of the Supreme Court, like our president, have no regard for the people or their representatives in the Congress or the state houses across the country," he added in a statement.

Minnesota reacts

In Minnesota, which had legalized same sex marriage in 2013, reactions were similarly mixed.


Rev. Leslie Moughty is the pastor at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Brainerd, which prides itself on holding the Open and Affirming designation within the UCC denomination, meaning they welcome LGBTQ people in their congregation.

"We've been ONA since 2000, so for us, this is a long time coming," she said. "(The congregation is) thrilled. I think it was a decision that folks were expecting to come out, but it's always a relief when it actually does."

Although same-sex marriage has been legal in Minnesota since 2013, Friday's ruling was still a positive recognition of human rights, Moughty said.

"It affirms the humanity and the equal treatment of people who were simply born to love people that the same gender as they are," she said.

Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, believes marriage to be between a man and a woman, but took the Supreme Court decision in stride.

"The ruling doesn't surprise me, doesn't change my personal beliefs," Lueck said. "I was disappointed, but the Supreme Court's another part of our system, and they are independent."

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, whose state legalized gay marriage in 2013, called Friday a "great day for America."



A group of gay rights supporters met outside of the Grand Forks County Courthouse to celebrate the court's ruling Friday afternoon. With rainbow handkerchiefs and heart-shaped balloons, they reflected on the sudden and swift victory.

"I didn't think I would see it in my lifetime," said Mark Brandon. "It's a step in having equal rights for everyone."

While attitudes about gay marriage have rapidly changed in recent years, Hillary Kempenich said she has "never understood what the problem was." Just 37 percent of Americans said same-sex couples should be allowed to marry in 2009. That quickly jumped to 57 percent this year, according to the Pew Research Center.

Kempenich was among the dozen or so people celebrating in front of the courthouse.

"This has always been very important to me," she said.

At Dakota Harvest Bakers, about 50 gay rights supporters gathered because they had been "waiting for this to happen for quite some time," said JoNell Bakke, vice president of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition and former North Dakota senator.

"There's still going to be pushback from the state, obviously," Bakke said. "But this sets the tone that if it's legal to be married, it's illegal to discriminate against (people who identify as gay)."

Kyle Thorson, who spoke to the crowd about Grand Forks Pride, organized the event and was happy at the turnout.


"The reality is, this many people showing up speaks to how excited and celebratory our community is," he said. "People wouldn't show up if they didn't care."

Janace Walker was hastily preparing to marry her fiancee in Minot on Friday morning after she heard the news. She and Sarne Bush originally planned to marry elsewhere while on vacation.

"A friend called me (and told me about the ruling)," Walker said. "I was like, 'No way.' "

Thompson Mayor Karyn Hippen, who became the first North Dakota leader to join the group Mayors for the Freedom to Marry last year, said she was "very happy" when she first heard about the Supreme Court's ruling.

"It's not that any group today is trying to change the institution of marriage," Hippen said. "They're trying to join it."

Democratic Rep. Joshua Boschee, North Dakota's first openly gay lawmaker, said the Supreme Court's decision was "certainly exciting." But he noted North Dakota state law still doesn't prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation after legislative efforts fell short last session.

"Folks will be able to get married, but that doesn't mean that they're protected in their employment and their housing, which we still need to rectify," he said.

Still, Boschee said there are "a lot of people who are excited," noting some couples already have married elsewhere.


"So now their marriages will be recognized and they'll have the same rights and responsibilities as their straight friends and family," he said.

Forum News Service reporters Crystal Duan and Zach Kayser contributed to this report.

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