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June 30: The End of Homosexuality as a Crime

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This date in 1975 was the last day when homosexuality was illegal in North Dakota, a change that came with little fanfare as North Dakota newspapers focused on other things. A tornado had killed an infant; there was flooding in West Fargo; a civil war in Lebanon; a new adoption law; repeal of the margarine tax, two FBI agents shot dead on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and the old governor's mansion being set for renovation.

Two years earlier, in 1973, the North Dakota Legislature had overhauled the state's criminal code on sex offenses. An interim committee had studied the topic and presented the Legislature with three alternatives. According to the Mandan Morning Pioneer, Senate Bill 2047 was the closest to the current laws, while Senate Bill 2048 broadly liberalized the law, and the third bill, 2049, was considered a compromise.

Thomas M. Lockney, a law professor at the University of North Dakota and a member of the interim committee, had testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee saying that the “purpose of criminal law should be limited government, which is the conservative viewpoint. … We had to decide to what extent conduct that is generally considered repugnant or immoral, but which does not produce demonstrable harm to others, should be made criminal.” Meanwhile, Representative Peter Hilleboe of Fargo testified that “homosexuality should not be listed as a crime.”

On January 30, the Senate Judiciary Committee chose “indefinite postponement” of Senate Bills 2047 and 2048, and recommended the “middle of the road” – Senate Bill 2049.

The 1973 North Dakota Legislature passed the bill by a margin of 46 to 4 in the Senate and 87 to 9 in the House.

California’s Legislature passed a similar bill in 1975, but unlike North Dakota, it came amid great fanfare and bitter opposition, with the Lieutenant Governor being flown in to cast a tie-breaking vote on the Senate floor. California's press widely reported on the law going into effect on January 1, 1976 – quite a contrast with North Dakota's low-key reform, which lacked California's polarization and drama.

Dakota Datebook by Andrew Alexis Varvel

See references here.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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