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Mayors group for gay marriage gets first ND member: Thompson’s Hippen has son who came out to her five years ago

THOMPSON — The mayor of Thompson has joined a national group of mayors supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage.

On Thursday, Karyn Hippen became the 400th mayor to join Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, and the first mayor from North Dakota in the group.

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“I was in favor of equal rights of any issue all my life,” she said.

But that outlook became more personal five years ago when her son Matt came out as gay to her while they sat at a Grand Forks restaurant.

“She started getting teary-eyed,” Matt Hippen said. That reaction initially signaled to him that she was taking it as bad news. “But she wasn’t crying because she was mad, or angry or sad. She was crying because she knew how hard the struggle here on out would be for me.”

The years since have been easier knowing that his mom supported him, Hippen added.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better mother,” he said.

The group’s roster includes the mayors of Houston, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. A number of Minnesota mayors have joined the group.

Hippen said she was approached by Freedom to Marry, the national group of which the mayoral group is a part. She said she was disappointed to learn that she would be the first mayor of a North Dakota city to join.

“I was honored to be asked, but I was kind of sad for our state,” said Hippen, who was first elected as mayor in 2008. Thompson has a population of about 1,000 and is about 11 miles south of Grand Forks.

“Certainly this is my personal view. I’m not proclaiming my entire community feels this way,” Hippen said. “But they elected me to a position that gave me the opportunity to share my view on this.”

Several couples have reportedly approached lawyers about potentially challenging North Dakota’s ban on same-sex marriage, which was approved by 73 percent of residents in 2004. A federal lawsuit filed Thursday to block South Dakota’s gay marriage ban leaves North Dakota as the only state with a ban that hasn’t faced a legal challenge.

“As the conversation about why marriage matters comes to every corner of the country, voices like Mayor Hippen’s talking about North Dakota families and values of fairness will help grow support for the freedom to marry in the heartland and create the climate to end the denial of marriage throughout America,” Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said in a statement.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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