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North Dakota's gay marriage ban was challenged in federal court Friday, leaving no state in the union with an unchallenged same-sex marriage ban.
Seven same-sex couples joined a federal suit filed in U.S. District Court in Fargo, North Dakota, alleging the state's laws denied them their constitutional rights. The Associated Press reports there are now gay marriage cases pending in all 31 states with gay marriage bans; the other states have legalized gay marriage.
What does this recent suit mean for gay marriage in the United States?
Is N.D. Suit 'Largely Symbolic?'
Until Friday, North Dakota was the last state in the nation with a gay marriage ban that hadn't been challenged in court. Joshua Newville, a Minneapolis-based attorney, filed suit on behalf of gay couples in neighboring South Dakota less than a month ago; Newhile hinted that North Dakota would not be far behind, reports The Washington Post.
Perhaps being the last state to bring the gay marriage issue to the courts gives less of a landmark air to the filing, as some legal experts told the AP that the lawsuit "is largely symbolic." With gay marriage cases in other states already working their way to the U.S. Supreme Court, it does seem unlikely that North Dakota's case will make or break the issue for the nation.
However, as Professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond School of Law told the AP, even if the decision is symbolic, "symbolism is important, right?" Not only does Friday's filing herald the end of unchallenged bans on gay marriage, it also means the right to marry may soon be within reach for gay North Dakotans.
This is especially true if North Dakota's ban is struck down and the ruling is not stayed, which is a definite possibility.
North Dakota's Response
When faced with similar federal challenges, some states have chosen not to defend their laws. In fact, Virginia's Attorney General made waves earlier this year by announcing that he would actively fight his state's prohibition on gay marriage.
As of Friday, the AP reports that the North Dakota attorney general's office had neither seen the suit nor offered comment about it. Oregon and Pennsylvania became the latest two states to allow gay marriage by refusing to appeal the federal rulings which struck down their marriage bans.
Perhaps North Dakota will join their ranks in the near future.