These Native-American Tribes Are Pioneering Marriage Equality
BY Connie Wu
July 28 2014 8:00 AM ET
This year, the list of states with marriage equality expanded to include Oregon, among others. While that's big news, of course, gay and lesbian couples could already legally marry in a certain part of the state. Five years before the state of Oregon established legal same-sex marriage, the Coquille Indian Tribe amended its marriage laws to include same-sex couples. Because Native-American tribes are federally recognized sovereign nations, they can create their own laws regarding marriage.
The Coquille Tribe was the first of 10 tribes that have now extended marriage rights to include same-sex couples, many of them doing so years before their states. The latest to join the list is the Puyallup tribe in Washington, which made the announcement last week.
The new marriage laws have resulted in many beautiful ceremonies and happy couples who have waited years to be recognized not only by federal and state governments but also by their tribes and communities.
Two of the largest tribes, the Navajo and Cherokee, remain staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage. But if the 10 tribes in this slideshow are any indication, many more tribes may soon re-examine their laws.
Coquille Tribe, Oregon (2009)
The Coquille Indian Tribe adopted a law that would extend all tribal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples — at least one of whom must be Coquille — in 2009. At the time, the Oregon constitution prohibited same-sex marriages, but as a federally recognized sovereign nation, the Coquille were not bound by the state's policies. So, when Kitzen and Jeni Branting (shown at left) were married at the Coquille Indian Tribe's plankhouse at the tribe's Coos Bay reservation, they were the first legal same-sex marriage not only of the tribe but also in all of Oregon. Although their marriage was solely recognized by the tribe at the time, Kitzen Branting noted, "My tribe recognizes the marriage, so that's really important to me. Anytime we come to a tribal function, I know my marriage is just as valid as anyone else's marriage."
Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, Connecticut (2010)
In June of 2010, the Connecticut-based Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation changed the wording of its 2008 marriage code from "A man and a woman may be joined in marriage on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation" to "Two persons may be joined in marriage on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation." At the same time, the tribe also announced new laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and revised employment policies to reflect the change. The tribe is "no stranger to discrimination and the struggle for dignity and equality," said Robert Victoria, chief marketing officer for Foxwoods Resort Casino, run by the Pequot.