North Dakota Doesn't Seem Fully On Board With Marriage Equality

An inclusive marriage wording bill flops in the Peace Garden State.
Opponents of Senate Bill 2043 argued that it "doesn't do anything."
Opponents of Senate Bill 2043 argued that it "doesn't do anything."
Miryana Slivenska / EyeEm via Getty Images

North Dakota officials still seem reluctant to accept same-sex marriage as the law of the land, if the failure of a proposed measure that would’ve adjusted state law to reflect the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling on marriage equality is any indication.

Senate Bill 2043, which would have changed dozens of legal references, including “husband and wife,” on state-issued documents to gender-neutral terms, failed 15 to 31, The Bismarck Tribune reported Tuesday. At present, North Dakota law continues to list “one man, one woman,” and “husband and wife” on marriage licenses, fishing licenses and other documents.

In the 18 months since the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, more than 150 same-sex couples have been legally married in North Dakota, the Associated Press reported. Still, the Peace Garden State trails behind other traditionally red states in shifting to gender-neutral documentation. By August 2015, Kentucky and Texas had removed all references to gender on their marriage licenses, opting for “applicant one” and “applicant two,” and “first party” and “second party,” respectively. Similarly, in Florida, marriage certificates and license applications began displaying “spouse” and “spouse” by September 2015, nine months after same-sex marriage became legal in the state.

Supporters of Senate Bill 2043, including Sen. John Grabinger, felt that the shift to gender-neutral language would help prevent potential lawsuits against the state. That, in turn, would save taxpayer money, he said.

“North Dakota simply cannot overrule [the] U.S. Supreme Court’s decision,” Grabinger (D-Jamestown) told The Jamestown Sun. “I do not believe it is responsible for us to risk potentially millions of dollars in taxpayer money just because we refuse to update the current century code to reflect current federal law.”

Conversely, opponents of the bill argued that it was unnecessary. “A ‘yes’ vote on Senate Bill 2043 will mean functionally nothing,” Sen. Janne Myrdal (R-Edinburg) told KFYR-TV, “though it will serve to diminish, with official intent, the honor and sacredness of what the human institution of marriage is described as in the North Dakota Constitution as it stands today.”

Echoing Myrdal’s sentiments was Sen. David Hogue. Marriage equality may be the law of the land, he told The Bismarck Tribune, but Senate Bill 2043 “doesn’t do anything.”

“It’s a bill that inspires and arouses a lot of passion in this chamber and elsewhere,” Hogue (R-Minot) said, “but the bill’s not necessary.”

“Necessary” or not, a tiny gesture can make a huge impact, and in this case, it sounds like North Dakota has got some catching up to do.

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