Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Interim Committee to Consider Changing State Law to Reflect Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

NDACo provided information to the Interim Judiciary Committee regarding the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court Ruling to allow for same sex marriages. North Dakota counties have complied with the high-court's ruling. No couples have been refused a marriage license based on their gender. The ruling has had minimal impact on the county offices who issue licenses and conduct marriages. In 2015, there were 66 marriage licenses issued to same sex couples in North Dakota, that's out of 4,707 total. 16 counties have issued same-sex marriage licenses. 20 were in Cass County, 12 in Grand Forks, 11 in Ward, 6 in Burleigh and the remaining counties had 1 to 3.

This data does not include the first couple weeks after the court ruling. The County Recorders Association estimates approximately 10 marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples in that time frame. Those marriages were not tracked as such because a new application form had to be developed and distributed to include a check-box to reflect the gender of the applicants.

In counties where a county employee has had personal conflicts with issuing same-sex marriage licenses, the county commission has appointed or transferred those duties to other staff members. There have been three counties who have found alternative employees to assume the responsibility.

NDACo drew committee member's attention to section of state law that defines and refers to marriage as a contract between "one man and one woman" and areas were spouse refers to "a person of the opposite sex". These are areas of the code, lawmakers will need to decide if they should change to reflect the new Constitutional right. Doug Bahr, litigation director for the state Attorney General's office said it could cause confusion for political subdivisions, as well as the state, with regards to taxes, licensing and other types of issues if the Legislature does not make changes to the state statutes that make reference to "husband" and "wife".

The Interim Judiciary Committee took no action during this hearing. They plan to do more research into what other states are doing. Any recommendations for changes would be presented during the 2017 Legislative Session.

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