There are at least four American Indian tribes in which same-sex marriage has been legalized over the course of 2013. With sovereign governments—such as Indian reservations—not being subject to state laws, at least seven perform same-sex marriage, including ones in Oregon, Oklahoma, and Michigan, the last of which being a state where voters banned gay marriage back in 2004.
There are currently 566 federally recognized tribes in the United States. Two of the largest tribes, the Cherokee Nation and Navajo Nation, banned same-sex marriage in 2004 and 2005, respectively.
“The federal government recognizes it, but the state I reside in doesn’t,” a member of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan, fifty-three-year-old Tim LaCroix, told press. LaCroix met his non-Indian partner in the US Navy; after thirty years of partnership, the two married on tribal land in March. “We should be accepted in the state of Michigan. We pay taxes like everyone else.”
Though the US Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) earlier in the year, this didn’t force states to perform same-sex marriages elsewhere, including by tribes within their borders.
“It’s going to speed up the uptake of same-sex marriage in tribes because it clears up [an]issue that for Indians is a bigger deal than even for non-Indians,” the executive director of the Native American Law Center at the University of Washington Law School, Ron Whitener, told press. He is a member of the Squaxin Island Tribe in Washington—one which doesn’t have laws governing domestic relations, deferring that responsibility to the state.
“Gay marriage has a place in the traditional values of many tribes in the Unites States,” Whitener added.
The Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon legalized same-sex marriage in 2008, followed by the Suquamish Tribe of Washington in 2011. The Little Traverse Bay Band of Potawatomi in Michigan, the Santa Ysabel tribe of California and the Confederated Tribes of Colville Reservation of Washington State also took action to allow same-sex marriages.
Also, the Oklahoma-based Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes performed its first same-sex marriage in December, although not all tribal leaders are aiming for that same sense of equality.
Tribal leader Ida Hoffman, sixty, who calls herself a Baptist, wasn’t shameful in voicing her views from the opposing side.
“I’m opposed to same-sex marriage as I’m sure a lot of our tribal members are,” Hoffman said. “I feel like, with an issue like this, it needs to go out to the people.”