BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — There hasn't been a big rush to wedlock by same-sex couples in North Dakota since the state's ban on gay marriage became moot last summer, and officials say fear of discrimination is a reason.
The U.S. Supreme Court in June declared same-sex couples have the right to marry nationwide. A federal judge shortly after ruled North Dakota's decade-old ban on gay marriage unconstitutional and invalid.
A check by The Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/1XCDdFu ) found that 18 of the state's 53 counties have issued a total of 60 licenses to same-sex couples since then — a small fraction of the 4,500 marriage licenses issued annually in the state. The state's Vital Statistics Division has a tally of 56 licenses, but Director Darin Meschke said the count does not include the first couple of weeks after the court rulings, before the marriage license application was changed to include a check-box to reflect the gender of the applicants.
"Nationally, we believed that statistic would be needed, so our office worked with the counties to collect the gender," Meschke said.
Officials with the LGBT community aren't surprised by the low number of gay marriage licenses issued in North Dakota. One reason is that same-sex couples have been able to get marriage licenses for years in Minnesota, which legalized gay marriage in 2013. But fear is another big reason.
"There's still quite a few who are not willing to be public, especially with the religious stance (against it) still so strong," said Kevin Tengesdal, of Bismarck, a member of the Dakota OutRight organization and a board member of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition.
North Dakota lawmakers have defeated legislation three times in the past six years to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, government, public services and the workplace.
"They could be legally married on Saturday and come Monday get fired or lose their housing," Tengesdal said. "I think there's an underlying trepidation about that."