The Freedom to Marry in Native American Territories

Just as the United States debated 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-Spiritsame-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.

  • May 20, 2009: A Coquille Indian Tribe law allowing marriage equality takes effect, affording same-sex couples all the tribal benefits of marriage. The Coquille Indian Tribe is based in Oregon.
  • August 2, 2011: The Suquamish Tribe in Washington State passes a law respecting the freedom to marry in the tribe.
  • March 15, 2013: The chairman for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians approves a statute that brings the freedom to marry to the Michigan-based tribe.
  • June 20, 2013: The first same-sex couple gets married in the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians Tribal Court in Michigan after the tribe legalized the freedom to marry in March.
  • June 28, 2013: The Santa Ysabel tribe in California announces its support for the freedom to marry.
  • September 10, 2013: The Colville Tribal Council of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation in Washington enacts a freedom to marry statute, ending marriage discrimination within the tribe.
  • October 22, 2013: The Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma begin performing marriages for same-sex couples.
  • November 13, 2013: The first same-sex couple is wed in the Leech Lake Tribal Court in Minnesota.
  • July 19, 2014: The Puyallup Tribe of Indians legalizes the freedom to marry within the tribe in Washington.
  • February 24, 2015: The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes in Alaska legalizes the freedom to marry in its tribal courts.
  • May 28, 2015: The Oneida Tribe in Alaska amends its marriage law to include same-sex couples.
  • June 10, 2015: The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in Michigan legalizes the freedom to marry.

As Native American tribes continue to understand why marriage matters to same-sex couples, it is likely that additional sovereign nations will implement the freedom to marry for all.