Wash. Native American Tribe Recognizes Marriage Equality

The Colville Tribal Council voted Thursday to recognize same-sex marriages among members of its tribe.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

September 09 2013 5:15 PM ET

The Colville Tribal Council of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to recognize same-sex marriages, according to The Wenatchee World. The ruling will extend to all of the tribe's more than 9,300 members, about half of whom live on the Colville Reservation in north-central Washington State, according to the World. 

Council chairman Michael Finley told the paper that the tribe has long recognized and respected LGBT identities, usually referred to as two-spirit in the tribal vernacular. Last week's vote means two-spirited Colvilles will be treated equally and with respect, Finley said. The tribe had already permitted members in same-sex partnerships to add their spouse to their insurance and other benefits plans. 

Although Washington State voters approved marriage equality last November, federally recognized Native American tribes are self-governed and aren't subject to state laws. 

Several Native American tribes around the country have formally recognized same-sex marriages in recent years. In 2008 the Coquille Indian Tribe on the southern Oregon coast became the first Native American tribe to recognize marriage equality, and in 2011 the Suquamish Tribe in Suquamish, Wash., also approved marriage equality. In March of this year, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan also began to recognize same-sex marriages, when it oversaw tribe member Tim LaCroix's marriage to his now-husband, Gene Barfield. The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians in Michigan and the Santa Ysabel Tribe of California also recognize same-sex marriages, bringing the total number of U.S. tribes with formal marriage equality to six, according to Equality on Trial.

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