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Licenses show evidence of demand for same-sex marriage in North Dakota

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FARGO — As courts across the country strike down bans on same-sex marriage, North Dakota remains outside the fray.

Activists have helped legalize same-sex marriage or challenged laws banning it in every U.S. state except North Dakota. But advocates say they expect a challenge soon, with one attorney saying it will come in the next few months.

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Meanwhile, there’s evidence of a demand for same-sex marriage in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

About two-thirds of the 68 same-sex marriage licenses issued in Minnesota’s Clay County involve at least one North Dakota resident, according to the county recorder’s office.

“It’s evidence showing that there are families in North Dakota that want to be recognized,” said state Rep. Joshua Boschee, D-Fargo, the state’s only openly gay legislator. “And the only way they can is to cross the border to do it.”

Montana and South Dakota saw challenges to their same-sex marriage bans last week, leaving North Dakota with the only unchallenged law barring the practice. North Dakota’s constitutional ban passed by a wide margin 10 years ago.

But Boschee said he thinks public opinion has changed since 73 percent of North Dakota voters opted to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Any judge ruling on the issue will likely take public opinion into consideration, said Dave Lanpher, who chairs the Fargo Human Relations Commission.

Both Lanpher and Boschee said they expect a challenge to the North Dakota law soon.

“The times, they are a-changing,” Lanpher said. “It’s only a matter of time.”

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead checked with all 13 Minnesota counties bordering North Dakota. Five haven’t received a single application for a same-sex marriage license since the practice began in Minnesota in August.

Resident information in six other counties either isn’t tracked or was unavailable Friday afternoon.

Neither of the two license applications in Big Stone County involve North Dakota residents.

In Clay County, five of the 68 applications involved one North Dakota resident, and 40 were between two North Dakota residents.

Joshua Newville, a Minneapolis attorney representing six same-sex couples challenging South Dakota’s ban, called the Clay County statistics “fantastic.”

“I think that it demonstrates the need for marriage equality in North Dakota,” Newville said.

After filing the South Dakota lawsuit, Newville got more than a dozen calls from same-sex couples in North Dakota who want to challenge the state’s constitutional ban, he said.

“The impetus for this challenge is coming from within North Dakota,” Newville said.

Newville said he or another attorney will challenge the ban within the next few months.

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