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Patrick Springer, Published March 06 2012

Fargo man challenging North Dakota’s ban on gay marriage

FARGO – Lenny Tweeden plans to take his case to allow gay marriage to North Dakota voters.

Tweeden, who last month was turned down in an attempt to get a marriage license at the Cass County Treasurer’s office to wed a man who has been his partner for 25 years, will try to get the issue on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The Fargo man is looking to recruit “team leaders” who could help him spearhead a petition drive to collect the 26,904 signatures needed by Aug. 8, to put the issue on the ballot.

The drive aims to amend the North Dakota Constitution – reversing a ban on gay marriage placed in the keystone legal document with overwhelming voter support in the 2004 general election.

That year, 73 percent of North Dakota voters, with 223,572 yes votes and 81,716 no votes, supported adding the following provision to the state Constitution:

“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.”

The measure had strong support in every county, according to an election breakdown by the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office. The level of support was weaker, however, in Cass and Grand Forks counties, which host major university campuses.

“I tend to think college towns have a more liberal leaning,” Tweeden said, adding those cities would be logical places to concentrate a petition drive.

Although North Dakota voters overwhelmingly approved a ban on gay marriage eight years ago, by Tweeden’s tally, nine states now allow gay marriage, and he said momentum appears to be gaining.

“I believe the opinion is changing on the issue,” Tweeden said. “I think with the presidential election, that it will pull more voters. This is the year to do it.”

To conduct his petition drive, Tweeden is seeking team leaders in Grand Forks, Bismarck and Minot as well as Fargo, a region he will head.

His goal is to form a sponsoring committee and have petitions approved and ready to circulate by April 15.

Tweeden also is exploring the possibility of a lawsuit to challenge the legality of North Dakota’s ban on gay marriage. He said he has been approached by a couple of lawyers willing to help in the event of a court challenge.

“Both options are open,” Tweeden said.

First, though, he will try the court of public opinion.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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