North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem filed a legal opinion last week confirming that the state does not recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages, allowing a man married to another man to come to North Dakota and marry a woman without divorcing his husband.
While many wildly speculated that the legalization of same-sex marriage could lead to polygamy, they probably never thought it would be like this. Presented with a legal hypothetical, Attorney General Stenehjem answered three questions: whether someone in a same-sex marriage in another state can also receive a marriage license to someone of the opposite sex in North Dakota, whether they can file legal documents as “Single” when they possess a same-sex marriage license in another state, and whether this would open the individual up for prosecution under another state’s bigamy laws. The Attorney General’s response can be read in full PDF form here.
The answer to all these questions, essentially, is that a person can legally possess two marriage licenses in North Dakota, because a same-sex marriage license is not recognized. The Attorney General did not comment on whether such a situation would lead to a bigamy charge in another state, suggesting it was “inappropriate” to comment on laws outside of North Dakota.
North Dakota’s constitution prohibits same-sex marriage since the state voted to amend it in 2004, and the state has an additional statute prohibiting same-sex unions from valid recognition. Marriages performed outside of the state are also recognized in North Dakota only when they do not violate the laws of North Dakota, which would already invalidate same-sex marriages, but the statute goes further to explicitly cite the illegitimacy of same-sex marriages in that state.
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