Voters would have to approve same-sex marriage in North Dakota because marriage is defined in the state's constitution as being between a man and a woman.
North Dakota is not likely to join neighboring Minnesota in allowing gay marriages anytime soon, some political and legal experts say.
University of North Dakota political science professor Mark Jendrysik points to a 2004 vote to ban same-sex marriages as evidence that the mindset is different in conservative North Dakota. Seventy-three percent of voters approved that constitutional amendment.
"People are presuming this wave of states legalizing same-sex marriage is part of an unstoppable trend," Jendrysik told The Forum newspaper (http://bit.ly/10UWBiI ). "It's not a given. Nothing is inevitable in politics."
Minnesota's Legislature has voted to legalize gay marriage and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton was expected to sign the bill Tuesday. Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington backed gay marriage in ballot referendums last fall, and legislators in Delaware and Rhode Island legalized it earlier this month.
Voters would have to approve same-sex marriage in North Dakota because marriage is defined in the state's constitution as being between a man and a woman. Tom Freier, executive director of the North Dakota Family Alliance, which favors that view of marriage, said he doesn't think much has changed in voters' minds in the past nine years. He said he doesn't think the state's political views align with Minnesota or the other states that recently legalized same-sex marriage.
UND law professor Steven Morrison said North Dakotans' views on marriage laws won't change overnight, but he believes "the tide is shifting" nationally and change eventually will come to North Dakota.
"You're going to see a lot of North Dakotans who know people (in Minnesota) who are gay or lesbian and who are married," he said.
The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a couple of cases dealing with same-sex marriage. One involves the federal Defense of Marriage Act, part of which withholds federal benefits from same-sex couples. The other is a challenge to California's Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment passed in 2008 that bars gay couples from marrying. Decisions in both cases are expected in late June.
Fargo Democratic Rep. Joshua Boschee, the first openly gay person elected to the North Dakota Legislature, said he thinks any decision from the nation's highest court that strikes down all or parts of those laws could spur North Dakota activists to challenge the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage.