North Dakota rejects changes to state law to reflect same-sex marriage ruling

North Dakota state capitol in Bismark JAMES MacPHERSON, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota‘s Republican-led Senate rejected a measure Tuesday that would have changed state law to reflect the U.S. Supreme Court‘s decision that same-sex couples have the right to marry.

The bill failed 15-31. It would have changed dozens of references, such as “husband and wife,” to gender-neutral terms. North Dakota law lists “one man, one woman” or “husband and wife” for everything from marriages and divorces to fishing licenses.

The measure got a hearing last week in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which voted 4-2 to recommend against passage.

North Dakota had state laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and 73 percent of North Dakota voters approved a state constitutional amendment in 2004 limiting marriage rights to man-woman couples.

The Supreme Court in 2015 declared that same-sex couples have the right to marry nationwide, and a federal judge ruled shortly afterward that North Dakota’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional.

Democratic Sen. John Grabinger worried that not changing state law to reflect the high court decision could leave the state open to lawsuits.

“Same-sex marriage is the supreme law of the land,” he said.

GOP Sen. Kelly Armstrong, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a lawyer, said rejecting the measure is only symbolic since same-sex marriage is now legal nationwide.

“I think it’s a pretty drastic over-estimation that we would end up in litigation if we don’t pass this bill,” Armstrong said.

More than 150 same-sex couples were legally married in North Dakota since the high court ruling, said Donnell Preskey Hushka, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Association of Counties.

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