About a month after an Oklahoma lesbian couple filed for a tribal marriage application, the Cherokee National Tribal Council voted to clearly define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Principal chief Chad Smith has indicated he will sign the measure, which was approved by the council Monday night.
The change in a tribal marriage law that the lesbian couple said was gender-neutral would not affect Kathy Reynolds and Dawn McKinley, who were married last month in a Cherokee ceremony. Cherokee Nation laws are not retroactive. A Cherokee Nation district court has scheduled a hearing Friday to discuss a legal protest of McKinley and Reynolds's marriage application. The outcome of that hearing will determine whether the Owasso couple's union is legal.
The measure was not listed on Monday's council agenda, drawing some criticism. But Councilor Linda Hughes O'Leary defended the vote, saying the matter was of urgent importance.
After McKinley and Reynolds applied for the application on May 13, Darrell Dowty, chief justice of the Judicial Appeals Tribunal, ordered a moratorium on marriages that was set to expire Monday. "If we don't address this, we'll have a flood of same-sex marriages," O'Leary said. "This will be a black eye on the Cherokee Nation. Even the state of Oklahoma doesn't allow same-sex marriage."
Cherokee law currently states "every person" age 18 or older can be married, except those with a living husband or wife, those who are nearer of kin than first cousins, and those who are insane or idiotic. Using that definition, McKinley and Reynolds, who are Cherokees, were married May 18 in a tribal ceremony in Tulsa's Mohawk Park. But two hours before the ceremony, they were told the tribe would not record their marriage. The couple say they will attempt to file their marriage application again this week.
The state of Oklahoma does not recognize marriages for same-sex couples but does honor marriages recorded by the Cherokees. The tribe handles only a few marriages a year. State voters will decide in November whether to amend the state constitution to permanently deny marriage equality to same-sex couples.