These Native-American Tribes Are Pioneering Marriage Equality

The Puyallup Tribe is the latest to join a growing list of Native-American tribes legalizing same-sex marriage, many in states that have banned it.

BY Connie Wu

July 28 2014 9:00 AM ET


Suquamish Tribe, Washington (2011)
The issue of same-sex marriage in the Suquamish tribe was championed by then 28-year old Heather Purser (shown, left), a member of the tribe who grew up in Kitsap County, the main hub of the tribe. A commercial seafood diver from Olympia, Washington, Purser personally lobbied the Suquamish tribe's general council to make same-sex marriage legal.

"I realized that I do have the power to change my situation," Purser said to the Washington Post. In March of 2011 when Purser spoke at a meeting of the council, she was surprised to find that the majority of the audience supported her arguments, and later that year in June, the council unanimously voted in favor of same-sex marriage.

 

Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Michigan (2013)
When the tribal council of the Little Traverse Bay Bands first voted on a proposal to make marriage equality legal in summer of 2012, the proposal was rejected on a 5-4 vote. Just a few months later though, in March 2013, the proposal received another 5-4 vote, that time in favor of same-sex marriage, after the addition of a provision that required at least one member of the couple to be a tribal citizen. That very day, tribe member Tim LaCroix married his partner of 30 years, Gene Barfield in a ceremony officiated by Tribal Chairman Dexter McNamara. The two Navy veterans are the only couple so far to take advantage of the new legislation, but they said they hoped that their marriage and the new tribal law would help forward acceptance of same-sex marriage in Michigan. Lo and behold, almost exactly one year later on March 21, U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman ruled same-sex marriage legal, although enforcement of the ruling is currently stayed indefinitely.

Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Michigan (2013)
The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians also passed a marriage code allowing same-sex marriage in March 2013. Danny Hossler, a member of the tribe, had written to Chairman Matt Wesaw of the tribal council in 2012 requesting that the measure be put to a vote. Hossler and his now-husband Enrico Perez began planning a ceremony as soon as the results were announced. Later that year in June, the couple were married in the Pokagon Tribal Courthouse in Dowagiac, Michigan. Not only were they the first gay couple to marry through tribal court but the first couple to be married by the tribe at all. Perez and Hossler say the response from the tribe and outside community to their marriage has been overwhelmingly positive.

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