LGBT rights in North Dakota

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LGBT rights in North Dakota
Map of USA ND.svg
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal since 1973
Gender identity/expression Altering sex on birth certificate requires SRS
Discrimination protections None
Family rights
Recognition of
Same-sex marriage since 26th of June, 2015
Adoption Unclear

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in the U.S. state of North Dakota face some legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Same-sex sexual activity is legal in North Dakota. Same-sex couples and families headed by same-sex couples are eligible for all of the protections available to opposite-sex married couples. However, discrimination protections still lack in the state for LGBT people.

Laws against homosexuality[edit]

The first criminal law against sodomy in North Dakota was enacted in 1862, then the Dakota Territory. It prohibited heterosexual and homosexual fellatio. The law was expanded in 1885 to include anal intercourse and fellatio.[1] The state's vagrancy laws were expanded in 1903 to cover anyone whose speech or conduct was deemed to be "lewd, wanton and lascivious".[1] In State v. Nelson (1917), North Dakota Supreme Court broadened the scope of the sodomy law to include acts of cunnilingus.

In 1927 the law initially designed to permit the sterilization of mentally and physically disabled inmates was expanded to include anyone who the State authorities believed might be "habitual criminals, moral degenerates and sexual perverts".[1] The forced sterilization law was repealed in 1965.

In 1973, the State legalized private, adult, consensual homosexual relations as part of a larger revision of the criminal code that set the universal age of consent at eighteen years.[2]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Same-sex marriage has been legal in North Dakota since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26, 2015, which found the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples unconstitutional. The state had previously restricted marriage to the union of one man and one woman and denied recognition to same-sex unions under any legal designation both in its constitution and by statute.[3][4]

A lawsuit challenging the state's refusal to license and recognize same-sex marriages, Ramsay v. Dalrymple, was initiated in June 2014, but proceedings were suspended in January 2015 pending action by the U.S. Supreme Court in related cases.[5]

Adoption and parenting[edit]

North Dakota permits adoption by individuals and the law does not expressly ban LGBT people from adopting or having custody of children. However, in the 1980s, the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled that because of society's prejudices, the sexual orientation of a parent would be the deciding factor in child custody cases. This ruling was subsequently reversed in 2003.[6]

The law expressly allows private adoption organizations in the State to discriminate against LGBT individuals or couples seeking to adopt children, if such discrimination is based on a sincerely held religious belief.

Discrimination protection[edit]

Map of North Dakota counties and cities that have sexual orientation and/or gender identity anti–employment discrimination ordinances
  Sexual orientation and gender identity solely in public employment
  Sexual orientation in public employment
  Does not protect sexual orientation and gender identity in employment

No provision of North Dakota law explicitly addresses discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation or gender identity.[7]

Since 2001, the City of Fargo has had a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, but it only applies to city employment.

On June 17, 2013, the Grand Forks City Council approved a measure to protect city employees and city job applicants from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, becoming the second city in North Dakota to do so, and the first to address gender identity-based discrimination[8] Later that year, the city became the first in North Dakota to ban discrimination in rental housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity.[9]

On February 17, 2015, the North Dakota Senate voted 25-22 to approve a bill that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.[10] The bill did not receive enough votes to pass in the North Dakota State House.

On June 24, 2016, U.S Senator Heidi Heitkamp (Democrat) expresses her support for the LGBT community through social media. She has stated she would like to see equality throughout her state of North Dakota.

Hate crime laws[edit]

North Dakota law does not address hate crimes based on gender identity or sexual orientation.[11]

North Dakota does have law that addresses hate or bias based crimes, but it does not address sexual orientation or gender identification. The Federal Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990 encouraged states to report hate crime data to the FBI. Fargo, ND is the city responsible for reporting hate crimes to the state and federal government.[12]Studies have shown that 2 in 3 hate crimes go unreported.[13] This small knowledge of hate crimes may contribute to the lack of legislation in support of the LGBTQIA community. Groups like the Human Rights Campaign, along with other organizations, are currently working with North Dakota law officials in order to modify the hate crime laws to be LGBTQIA inclusive.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c The History of Sodomy Laws in the United States - North Dakota
  2. ^ William N. Eskridge, Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America, 1861-2003 (NY: Penguin Group, 2008), 201n, available online, accessed April 10, 2010
  3. ^ CNN: 2004 Ballot Measures, accessed April 10, 2011
  4. ^ Human Resources Campaign: North Dakota Marriage/Relationship Recognition Law, accessed April 10, 2011
  5. ^ "Judge puts marriage case on hold pending high court ruling". Houston Chronicle. Associated Press. January 20, 2015. Retrieved January 20, 2015. 
  6. ^ North Dakota Adoption Law, accessed April 10, 2011
  7. ^ Human Resources Campaign: North Dakota Non-Discrimination Law, accessed April 10, 2011
  8. ^ "Grand Forks: First in N.D. to add protections for LGBT city workers". June 17, 2013. 
  9. ^ Jewett, Brandi (October 21, 2013). "Grand Forks becomes first city to pass gay discrimination ban for rental housing". The City Street Beat. Grand Forks Herald. Retrieved October 22, 2013. 
  10. ^ MacPherson, James (17 February 2015). "North Dakota Senate approves LGBT‑inclusive anti-discrimination bill". AP. Retrieved 20 February 2015. 
  11. ^ Human Resources Campaign: North Dakota Hate Crimes Law, accessed April 10, 2011
  12. ^ North Dakota Hate Crime Law: [1], accessed October 26, 2015
  13. ^ Study Findings CBS News: [2], accessed October 26, 2015
  14. ^ Human Rights Campaign: [3], accessed October 26, 2015