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 8:00 AM ET

Santa Ysabel Tribe, California (2013)
Following on the heels of the Supreme Court decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry, which allowed same-sex marriages to resume in California, the Santa Ysabel Tribe of northeastern San Diego County announced its full support of the LGBT community and marriage equality. "Native Americans have fought hard to establish and protect their own rights, and Santa Ysabel is determined to support our own, and other same-sex couples in their struggle to be recognized and treated fairly as citizens of this great nation," said Virgil Perez, tribal chairman. "In our support for their battle for equality, we want the LGBT community to know they are welcome here, and that the encouragement and respect of our membership are with them."


Colville Tribe, Washington (2013)
In September 2013, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation joined the growing list of tribes that established legal marriage for gay and lesbian couples, a decision that affects the over 9,360 members of 12 different tribes. In the Colville tribal culture, LGBT people are known as Two-Spirited Peoples and have always had a place in tribal society. "They've always been accepted," said Council Chairman Michael Finley, noting that the new law will finally treat gay members of the tribe equally and with respect. The council vote received no objections, and the tribe began modify other codes and policies to accommodate the new amendment.


Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, Oklahoma (2013)
Jason Pickel and Darren Black Bear, both members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, had been together for more than eight years when they became the first gay couple to legally marry in Oklahoma. The couple had wanted to marry for five years, but struggled to get legal recognition, going so far as to plan a trip to Iowa where same-sex marriage is recognized to obtain a license. When the Supreme Court struck down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, however, Pickel decided to call the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe's courthouse to see if they could do the deed. "I was really expecting a big no," said Pickel. "…but I called the tribe and they said, 'Yeah, come on down, it's 20 bucks.'" The tribal code only requires that both people in the marriage are of Native American descent and live within the tribe's jurisdiction without specifying gender.

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