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New Richmond High School graduate Josh Newville, now an attorney for Madia Law in Minneapolis, is leading the fight for marriage equality in North and South Dakota. (Submitted photo)

New Richmond native takes last unchallenged gay marriage bans to court

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Eleven years after graduating from New Richmond High School, Josh Newville is making national and international headlines as the lawyer spearheading the fight for marriage equality in North and South Dakota.

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An associate attorney for Madia Law in Minneapolis, Newville was introduced to the opportunity by his friend and former law school mentee David Patton, who connected him with a lesbian couple desiring to challenge the same-sex marriage ban in South Dakota. After local attorneys and national organizations turned down the case, Patton thought to call Newville.

“David knew I had a strong interest in marriage equality and that I took several advanced seminars focusing on discrimination and civil rights constitutional law,” Newville said. “He asked if I was interested, and I said absolutely.”

On May 22, Newville filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Sioux Falls, S.D., on behalf of six samesex couples who either want to be married in the state or want their out-of-state marriages to be recognized.

According to Newville’s official complaint, “History teaches us that the vitality of marriage does not depend on maintaining discriminatory laws, and that eliminating unconstitutional restrictions on marriage has enhanced the institution.”

He cites laws prohibiting interracial marriage and laws restricting women’s rights within marriage as examples.

After the case garnered plentiful media coverage, 10 more couples from North Dakota asked Newville to challenge their state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Newville filed the lawsuit on behalf of seven couples June 6 in Fargo, N.D., leaving no state’s ban unchallenged.

Although 19 states have legalized same-sex marriage since the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last summer, the road ahead of Newville is not without hurdles. According to a 2013 Gallup survey, North Dakota has the smallest LGBT population, sitting at 1.7 percent.

In Newville’s opinion, one of the biggest challenges of the case is helping people understand that issues of discrimination are not subject to popular opinion under the Constitution.

“It doesn’t matter whether the majority of Wisconsin residents approve of same-sex marriage,” he said. “The constitution was established to prevent the tyranny of the majority.”

Having graduated from law school just two years ago, Newville still remembers the experience that piqued his interest in the subject. When he was 5 years old, Newville moved to New Richmond with his mother, who was locked in a custody battle with his father. The kindness of trial lawyer Warren Wood, who represented Newville’s mother in the case, and Judge Scott Needham inspired Newville to pursue a similar career.

His passion for justice arose later, after he heard local lawyer Tim Scott speak to his middle school about thehorror of the Holocaust. It only grew from there.

“I had some family members who were not the most culturally diverse, and I didn’t want the world to be that way,” Newville said. “Tim Scott inspired me to fight for social justice, equal rights and nondiscrimination causes.”

However, attorneys are not the only figures that shaped Newville’s future. He was quick to point out that he is the first in his extended family to attend college, and he credits many New Richmond educators with helping him persevere.

“The only reason I got to law school was the incredible teachers who pushed me along the way,” he said. “They cared so much about their students and saw potential in me beyond my background.”

New Richmond High School teachers Steph Karno and Mandi Erickson were among those who had the greatest impact on Newville, and both remembered his service as class president and leader of a social justice club.

“I am so proud of him,” Erickson said of Newville. “I got to see firsthand how he evolved. His true character emerged as he started to pursue what was important to him, and I have a feeling [this case] is just the beginning.”

“Josh was always filled with passion and followed what he believed in,” Karno added. “I have no doubt he will always be fighting for those who need someone to fight for them.”

Newville said he expects the District Court to rule on the South Dakota case by October, but it likely won’t end there. Both North and South Dakota have indicated they will appeal the case in the event of a loss, and Newville will do the same.

“These may very well end up being the biggest cases I ever touch in my career,” Newville said. “I’m blown away that I have the opportunity to be a part of it.”

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Jenny Hudalla
A senior at Bethel University, Jenny Hudalla is pursuing degrees in journalism, Spanish and reconciliation studies. Having graduated from New Richmond High School in 2011, she served as editor-in-chief of the Tiger Rag before taking a job as editor-in-chief of Bethel's student newspaper, The Clarion. After completing her internship with the New Richmond News, Hudalla plans to move on to a career in social justice.
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