Why Marriage Matters to Native Americans
Just as the United States debates whether or not to end the exclusion of same-sex couples and their families from marriage, Native American tribes are addressing the same issue.
Native American tribes are federally recognized sovereign nations—thus they can create their own policies around marriage for same-sex couples. Native American tribes have historically accepted LGBT/Two-Spirit same-sex relationships, and in 2009, the first tribe in the nation, the Coquille Tribe of Oregon, approved the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Since then, several other tribes have extended marriage to same-sex couples to same-sex couples, with several proactively approving resolutions in favor of the freedom to marry and others newly realizing that their tribal code does not reference gender and thus, permits marriage between same-sex couples.
These Native American tribes have approved the freedom to marry:
- The Coquille Tribe in Oregon (2009)
- The Suquamish Tribe in Washington (2011)
- The Tribal Council of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan (2013)
- The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians in Michigan (2013)
- The Santa Ysabel Tribe in California (2013)
- The Colville Tribal Council of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation in Washington (2013)
- The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma (2013)
- The Leech Lake Tribal Court in Minnesota (2013)
Many Native American leaders have heralded the importance of the freedom to marry for committed LGBT/Two-Spirit couples, such as Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr., who received Equality Arizona’s Barry Goldwater Human Rights Award for speaking out against and vetoing the discriminatory Diné Marriage Act of 2005. Although six of the seven tribal jurisdictions currently exclude same-sex couples from marriage, organizations such as NativeOUT and the Diné Coalition for Cultural Preservation continue to work toward an end to these discriminatory measures that violate the traditional beliefs in "goodwill" and "respecting all kinship."
Blog Posts Related to Native Americans
This month, another tribal nation began extending the freedom to marry to same-sex couples. In Oklahoma, Jason Pickel and Darren Black Bear became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in the state, since they received a marriage license from the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Concho, Oklahoma.
This week, the tribal council of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, based in Michigan, approved a statute that would extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples in the tribe. The tribe would become the third tribal nation to respect and perform marriages for same-sex couples.
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.
Resources Related to Native Americans
The Coquille Tribe's Marriage and Domestic Partnerships Ordinance
A survey of the national marriage landscape and guide for same-sex couples married by the Coquille Indian Tribe.
An article on the first same-sex couple to legally wed in the Coquille Tribe.