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High court ruling sends a few gay North Dakota couples speeding to courthouse

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BISMARCK, North Dakota — Some gay couples wasted no time pursuing marriage licenses in North Dakota on Friday, just hours after the Supreme Court decreed that same-sex marriage is a nationwide right.

At least two counties, Ward and Cass, had issued licenses to same-sex couples Friday after state officials acknowledged the end of a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

In Fargo, Trever Hill and Jesse Masterson scooped up their license, and Hill said they planned to get married at the end of July. Masterson, 31, and Hill, 30, said they had been together eight years and had a commitment ceremony two years ago.

"We always said as soon as it becomes legal in North Dakota, we're going to run to the courthouse and get married," said Hill, an interior designer. "I think it's amazing."

Hill said it's an exciting day, but said he feels like marriage should always have been legal for same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court ruling gave the losing side about three weeks to appeal, but county officials in many states that had banned gay marriage didn't wait. Besides Cass and Ward counties, Burleigh County's recorder said she was prepared to issue licenses to any gay couple who sought one.

North Dakota has had a constitutional ban on gay marriage since 2004, when 73 percent of voters in the state approved the amendment, but two federal lawsuits had challenged it.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said shortly after the ruling that it appeared to be the end of North Dakota's ban, though he said a judge would need to rule on pending lawsuits challenging it. Gov. Jack Dalrymple went further.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex marriage is legal throughout the nation and we will abide by this federal mandate," Dalrymple said in a statement.

A lesbian couple from Fargo who rallied outside of the Supreme Court in April said Friday that the court's ruling shows the nation continues to evolve socially.

"Understanding that Jan and I are included in the Constitution, that we have the same rights, no more and no less than anyone else, is very emotional," said Cindy Phillips, who married Jan Jorgensen in 2013 in Minnesota, where it was legal.

She said she doesn't expect the ruling to change the views of gay marriage opponents, but gay marriages might.

"There will be more marriages, and more people will find out they know folks who are entering into same-sex marriages," she said.

Minot mortgage banker Matt Elmore and his husband, Air Force missile operations officer Beau Thomas, were among those who filed one of the lawsuits that challenged North Dakota's ban. They married in California in 2013.

"Even though (justices) are older they did come to the right decision. It shows it's not an age thing, not a generational thing. It's a moral thing," Elmore said.

North Dakota's first openly gay lawmaker, Fargo Democratic Rep. Josh Boschee, said he expects no pushback from the Legislature, which doesn't meet until 2017.

"We have a year and a half and by then North Dakotans will have experienced marriage equality," Boschee said. "It will be pretty hard for the Legislature to try to do anything then."

Elmore and Boschee said they weren't surprised that same-sex couples weren't rushing to county courthouses in North Dakota to get licenses, given that neighboring Minnesota legalized gay marriage in 2013.

In the first few weeks, the licensing form will still say "bride" and "groom." A state committee of marriage license officials will be working with the state Information Technology Department to change the language, but "they told us it would take at least a month," Burleigh County Recorder Debbie Kroshus said.


Associated Press writers Kevin Burbach in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and James MacPherson in Bismarck contributed to this story.

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