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Gay marriage ruling declined

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem declined to offer his opinion Thursday on a proposed constitutional amendment which would ban same-sex marriage, saying the intent of its backers is unclear.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem declined to offer his opinion Thursday on a proposed constitutional amendment which would ban same-sex marriage, saying the intent of its backers is unclear.

Rep. Mary Ekstrom, D-Fargo, had requested an opinion on the measure, which North Dakota voters will face Nov. 2.

It reads: "Marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman. No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect."

Ekstrom, who opposes the measure, believes the second sentence is vague, and could prevent private businesses from extending benefits to same-sex couples or cohabitating heterosexual couples.

"If we don't know what it means and what its effect will be, why in the world would we want to pass it?" Ekstrom said.

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She is disappointed that Stenehjem did not offer an opinion, but understands his position.

Stenehjem said that text of the measure doesn't answer Ekstrom's question, and the intent of the Family Alliance has not been fleshed out in public debate.

For example, when a proposed amendment comes from the Legislature, Stenehjem can turn to the legislative history and debate to interpret the intent of its drafters.

With initiated measures, he would turn to brochures or newspaper articles to discern the public debate.

In this case, that debate has not yet occurred.

"I think it would be presumptuous of me to tell the sponsors of the measure what they mean," Stenehjem said. "I hope as the debate proceeds, it will be made clear."

Christina Kindel, executive director of the North Dakota Family Alliance, said Thursday that the amendment would not affect the rights of private businesses or individuals, but would prevent the courts or state government from creating "another entity that looks exactly like marriage but has a different name."

"It basically freezes in place current North Dakota law," she said.

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The Defense of Marriage Act in the state's Century Code currently defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and it does not prevent businesses from offering benefits, such as health insurance, she said.

"This constitutional amendment simply helps to strengthen that law. It doesn't change the law, in that sense," Kindel said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525

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