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Minnesota's gay marriage amendment

October 2, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
Minnesota, like North Dakota, already outlaws gay marriage, but people there are going to hold a vote in November that will decide whether to enshrine that ban in the state constitution.

Marriage law is one of those issues that perplexes me. Laws regarding who can and cannot marry seem to vary a lot from state to state and may get people who are married in one state in potential legal trouble if they move to another state.

For instance, North Dakota outlaws marriage between first cousins and sexual relations between them are a crime. It is also prohibited for first cousins who live in North Dakota and want to get married to go to another state – say California or New York or Hawaii – where first cousin marriage is perfectly legal and get married there. I'm not sure what happens in practice if people decide to do this, but the law on the books makes the penalty sound fairly dire. Presumably there are some people in this state who have married their first cousins and have just kept quiet about it.

The various laws against first cousin marriage all seem to be related to an "ick" factor and fear of what the offspring might look like, though the scientists say there is only a slightly more elevated risk of genetic problems in the child whose mother and father are first cousins. The risk is comparable to that of a child who is born to a mother who is over 40 and there are quite a few healthy, bright people out there born to older mothers.

I'm also somewhat curious what happens in the case of a teenager who marries a legal adult in another state and moves to North Dakota. Last year a 51-year-old actor named Doug Hutchison married a 16-year-old girl named Courtney Alexis Stodden in Las Vegas. Stodden's mother gave them permission, making the marriage legal.

Would the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Hutchison be legal in North Dakota? Would they run into any legal headaches if they decided to relocate to North Dakota, where the age of consent is 18? A 27-year-old teacher in Bismarck was just sentenced to 60 days in jail for having sex with a 17-year-old girl. What if those people had been married? North Dakota does apparently allow teenagers to get married at age 16 with parental permission and I imagine some of those 16-year-olds are marrying people over 18. Some other states apparently let even younger teens marry with parental permission and a court order. What happens when those couples move to North Dakota?

These sorts of marriages are likely so rare that no one has troubled to consider how the laws might apply, but I imagine they do present some legal headaches for law enforcement and social workers. It also causes real heartache for real people as in the case of a gay marriage that is legal in one state and not recognized in another. What happens regarding custody when the couple splits up and there are children involved and one of the parents is not recognized as a parent?

I have never had the slightest interest in marrying any of my first cousins, but I don't see much of a reason for it to be illegal in any state. I will not be surprised when the divorce of Mr. and Mrs. Hutchison is announced, but I don't necessarily think that marriage should be illegal either. There's certainly a historical precedent for similar marriages. And, as far as gay marriage goes, I think it ought to be legal in all 50 states.

More importantly, I think it would make sense to make laws regarding marriage the same in all 50 states so people can avoid running into legal trouble just by crossing across state lines.


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