Gay Okla. Couple Legally Married by Native American Tribe

Even though Oklahoma forbids same-sex marriage, members of Native American tribes are not beholden to state law.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

October 23 2013 4:33 PM ET

Jason Pickel and Darren Blackbear proudly display their marriage certificate. 

Jason Pickel legally married his partner, Darren Blackbear, in Oklahoma this week, even though the state doesn't recognize same-sex marriages.

After spending almost nine years together and wanting to marry for five, Pickel and Blackbear were planning a trip to Iowa to take advantage of the state's marriage equality law. But on a whim, Pickel called up the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal courthouse, which oversees legal issues for the tribes both men are descended from and asked if the tribes would recognize their marriage. 

"I was really expecting a big no," Pickel told Oklahoma City's KOCO. "I thought, we're on our way to Iowa. But I called the tribe, and they said,' yeah, come on down. It's $20.'"

In order for a marriage to be recognized under tribal law, Cheyenne and Arapaho policy requires both parties be of Native American descent and live within the jurisdiction of the tribes, according to KOCO. Nowhere does the tribal statute address the gender of the betrothed. 

Even though Oklahoma voters approved a law forbidding same-sex marriage by a margin of 76% in 2004, Native American tribal lands are not bound by state law, though the marriages performed within the tribe are recognized by the federal government. That means Pickel and Blackbear can file joint federal taxes as spouses, though they will have to file state taxes as unmarried single adults. 

Yet several other Native American tribes have performed or legalized same-sex weddings in states that don't embrace marriage equality — including the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon, the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians in Michigan, and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation in Washington.

The happy newlyweds are planning to host a wedding celebration — open to all, reports KOCO — on Halloween. 

Watch KOCO's report here.

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