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Alaskan Tribe Newest to Welcome Marriage Equality

Alaskan Tribe Newest to Welcome Marriage Equality


A major Alaskan tribal organization just welcomed marriage equality into its laws -- but they aren't alone.

A major southeast Alaskan tribal organization approved same-sex marriage for its members last week, making it at least the 11th Native American group to endorse equal marriage rights.

The seven-member governing board of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska unanimously OK'd the gender-neutral policy for marriages conducted in its courts.

"Our court can now be utilized by tribal citizens for the happy occasion of marriage without discrimination and regardless of gender," Debra O'Gara, the council's tribal court chief justice, said in a statement. At least one member of the couple marrying must be a member of the tribe.

The 21 tribal communities governed by the council across the U.S. will follow the new policy, which also means its courts can handle divorce proceedings and custody arrangements for both opposite-sex and same-sex couples.

There are at least 10 other Native American organizations with marriage equality policies.

Some of the most prominent of those pro-gay tribes include Oregon's Coquille Tribe (which allowed same-sex marriage rights back in 2009), Washington's Suquamish Tribe, and Connecticut's Mashantucket Pequot Tribe.

It is uncertain if the tribal marriages will be recognized by the state, reports Alaska radio station KCAW. Equal marriage rights did come to Alaska last October, when a federal judge overturned the state's 1998 ban on same-sex marriage. The state is appealing the decision, but same-sex couples are marrying there now.

Meanwhile, Tlingit and Haida officials lauded the tribal marriage equality decision. "All of our tribal citizens should be provided the same rights," Central Council president Richard Peterson said in a press release. "It's an important statement for the Tribe to make and one that was not difficult for our Executive Council to stand behind."

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