Same-sex marriage: N.D. ban challenged, Wisconsin's overturned

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Seven same-sex couples filed a lawsuit in Fargo Friday, challenging North Dakota's ban on gay marriage. Hours later a federal judge in Wisconsin ruled a similar ban in that state is unconstitutional.

The Fargo Forum reports the new lawsuit argues North Dakota must recognize same-sex marriages conducted legally elsewhere. The state's voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 defining marriage as an opposite-sex union.

Wisconsin ruling

In Wisconsin it was not immediately clear whether Friday's ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb would open the door to same-sex marriages.

The Associated Press reports that in Wisconsin some county clerks kept their offices open late and were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Friday evening.

There was some disagreement, though, about whether the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb was really intended to open the door to weddings.

The AP reports Wisconsin Attorney General J.P. Van Hollen asked Judge Crabb to issue an emergency order putting a stop to the marriages until the ruling is clarified. Hollen also promised the state will appeal the ruling.

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Borowski told the Journal-Sentinel it was unclear Friday evening if the clerks were authorized to issue marriage licenses.

"It's a very unusual situation," Borowski said. "I don't know who is performing the ceremonies. Issuing the licenses is one thing, but you need someone with the legal authority to perform the ceremony."

Wisconsin's lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin on behalf of eight gay couples. The suit argued that Wisconsin's prohibition deprived gay couples of the legal protections of marriage because of their gender and sexual orientation.

Voters approved Wisconsin's constitutional amendment in 2006. Gov. Scott Walker is a long-time opponent of gay marriage. But the AP notes that in recent months Walker has not had much to say about the issue, calling it a matter for the courts and voters to decide.

A Washington Post blogger writes that gay marriage opponents around the country seem to be drifting away from the issue. The Post and ABC News released a new poll Friday in which 56 percent of respondents around the country said they support the right of gay people to marry.

North Dakota challenge

The seven couples suing North Dakota are represented by Minneapolis attorney Joshua Newville, who is also handling a similar challenge in South Dakota. The suit argues North Dakota's ban targets same-sex couples for discrimination based on their orientation.

Voters approved North Dakota's constitutional amendment a decade ago with 73 percent support. But state Rep. Josh Boschee tells MPR News the state has changed since then. Boschee became North Dakota's first openly gay legislator when he was elected in 2012.

USA Today reports North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem would not comment on specifics of the lawsuit the day it was filed but noted it is the constitutional duty of the attorney general to defend the state when it is sued. The executive director of the North Dakota Family Alliance told the newspaper that group will help defend the case.

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