The Suquamish tribe unanimously approves the freedom to marry

The Suquamish tribe of Washington state will now join the ranks of six states and the District of Columbia in extending the freedom to marry to all citizens.  The new law will allow the tribal court to give marriage license to two people “regardless of their sex” as long as one partner is a member of the Suquamish tribe and both partners are at least 18 years old.  Marriages performed by the Suquamish tribe will be recognized within the tribe and also in any state or jurisdiction that recognizes the freedom to marry.  

The issue was first raised about four years ago by 28 year-old Heather Purser, a member of the Suquamish tribe who was raised in Kitsap County, the current main hub of the tribe.  Tables finally turned at the tribe’s general council in March, however, when Purser stepped up to the microphone and asked the tribe’s entire membership to extend marriage to gay and lesbian couples.  Afterwards she sat down and was surprised to find that the people around her encouraged her to get up again and request a vote of the entire audience.  Purser had anticipated dissent, “I was expecting a major fight.  I didn’t think anyone would support me,” she said.  She did not receive any of the backlash she thought she was going to get.  The Tribal Council held a public hearing on the issue in June and unanimously adopted the measure in a vote on Monday.  

The Suquamish tribe is not the first to recognize the freedom to marry; the Coquille Indian tribe in Oregon became the first tribe end marriage discrimination in 2009. The unanimity with which it passed in the Suquamish tribe is unprecedented.  Purser says that the public LGBT community is an extreme minority within the Suquamish tribe but hopes that this recognition will encourage increased openness.