Same-sex marriage under United States tribal jurisdictions

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The individual laws of the various United States federally recognized Native American tribes set the limits on same-sex marriage under their jurisdictions. Most, but not all, Native American jurisdictions have no special regulation for marriages between people of the same sex or gender. Same-sex marriage is possible in the Coquille Tribe (Oregon) since 2008, the Suquamish tribe (Washington) since 2011 and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (Washington), the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe (Minnesota), Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (Michigan), Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians (Michigan), and Santa Ysabel Tribe (California) since 2013. The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes were granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples by 2013, without any change to their marriage laws. These marriages were first recognized by the federal government in 2013 after section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was declared unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor. Under Section 2 of DOMA, individual states are explicitly free not to recognize same-sex marriages.

Nations that provide legal recognition[edit]

Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes[edit]

Marriage law of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, a united tribe in Oklahoma, makes no specification of the gender of the participants. Based on that, Darren Black Bear and Jason Pickel applied for and received a marriage license in 2013.[1] Theirs was the third such license issued by the Tribes.[2]

Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation[edit]

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in the state of Washington voted for same-sex marriage recognition on September 5, 2013. The vote passed the council without objection.[3]

Coquille Tribe[edit]

In 2008 the Coquille Tribe legalized same-sex marriage, with the law going into effect in May 2009.[4] The law approving same-sex marriage was adopted 5-2 by the Coquille Tribal Council and extends all of the tribal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. To marry under Coquille law, at least one of the spouses must be a member of the tribe.[5] In the 2000 Census, 576 people defined themselves as belonging to the Coquille Nation.

Although the Oregon voters approved an amendment to the Oregon Constitution in 2004 to prohibit same-sex marriages, the Coquille are a federally recognized sovereign nation, and thus not bound by the Oregon Constitution.[6] On May 24, 2009, the first same-sex couple—Jeni and Kitzen Branting—married under the Coquille jurisdiction.[7]

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe[edit]

On November 15, 2013, the first same-sex marriage took place among the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. The band has the most populous reservation in the state of Minnesota, which had legalized same-sex marriage at the state level earlier in the year.[8]

Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians[edit]

The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians tribal council voted to recognize same-sex marriages on March 5, 2013.[9] The Tribal chairman signed into law the legislation on March 15, 2013,[10] and a male couple was married that day. Same-sex marriages entered into by the sovereign tribe will not be recognized by Michigan, the state where the Little Traverse Bay Bands are based.[11]

Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians[edit]

The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians announced on March 9, 2013, that recognition for same-sex marriages would enter into force on May 8, 2013.[12] They issued their first such marriage certificate to a male couple on June 20, 2013.[13]

Santa Ysabel Tribe[edit]

On June 24, 2013, the Santa Ysabel Tribe announced their recognition of same-sex marriage, becoming the first tribe in California to do so.[14]

Suquamish Tribe[edit]

The Suquamish tribe of Washington legalized same-sex marriage on August 1, 2011, following a unanimous vote by the Suquamish Tribal Council. At least one member of a same-sex couple has to be an enrolled member of the tribe to be able to marry in the jurisdiction.[15]

Nations that do not recognize[edit]

Cherokee Nation[edit]

Same-sex marriage is illegal in Cherokee law.[16] After a Cherokee lesbian couple applied for a marriage license, the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council unanimously approved a Constitutional amendment in 2004 defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The couple appealed to the judicial court on grounds that their union predated the amendment, and on December 22, 2005 the Judicial Appeals Tribunal of the Cherokee Nation dismissed an injunction against the lesbian couple filed by members of the Tribal Council to stop the marriage.[17] The couple would still need to file the marriage certificate for the marriage to become legal.

Sault Ste. Marie Tribe[edit]

The law of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians notes that "requirements of the State of Michigan with respect to the qualifications entitling persons to marry within that State's borders, whether now in existence or to become effective in the future, are hereby adopted, both presently and prospectively, in terms of the sex of the parties to the proposed marriage".[18] Michigan does not allow same-sex marriages.

Chickasaw Nation[edit]

Section 6-101.9 of the laws of the Chickasaw Nation asserts that "No Marriage will be recognized between persons of the same sex".[19]

Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma[edit]

As of 2004, same-sex marriage is not recognized by the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma.[20]

Muscogee Creek Nation[edit]

As of 2004, same-sex marriage is not recognized by the Muscogee Creek Nation.[20]

Navajo Nation[edit]

Same-sex marriage is not valid under Navajo law.[16] It was explicitly prohibited in a nation code amendment from April 22, 2005,[21] which was vetoed by Navajo president Joe Shirley, Jr.[22] That veto was overridden by the Navajo Nation Council.[23]


  1. ^ "Same-sex Oklahoma couple marries legally under tribal law". KOCO. 2013-09-26. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  2. ^ Native American tribes challenge Oklahoma gay marriage ban, Al Jazeera, October 22, 2013
  3. ^ Colvilles recognize same sex marriage
  4. ^ "Coquille tribe approves same-sex marriages". Portland, OR: KOIN-TV. August 21, 2008. Retrieved August 21, 2008. [dead link]
  5. ^ Robinson, B.A. (May 5, 2012). "Adoption of SSM by the Coquille Nation of Oregon". Same-sex marriage (SSM) among Native Americans. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 
  6. ^ Graves, Bill (August 20, 2008). "Gay marriage in Oregon? Tribe says yes". The Oregonian. Retrieved September 7, 2008 a. 
  7. ^ Graves, Bill (May 27, 2009). "Indian gay marriage law takes effect in Oregon". Oregon Faith Report. Religion News Service. Retrieved January 1, 2010. 
  8. ^ 8th US Native American tribe allows same-sex couples to wed
  9. ^ "Council of Michigan Indian tribe OKs gay marriage". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Associated Press. March 5, 2013. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  10. ^ Hubbard, Brandon (March 15, 2013). "Odawa tribe becomes third in nation to allow gay marriage; marries first couple". Petoskey News Register. Archived from the original on March 15, 2012. Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  11. ^ "Tribe marries same-sex couple". 2013-03-17. Retrieved 2013-06-25. 
  13. ^ "West Michigan couple have first same-sex wedding in Pokagon Tribal Court". WWMT Newschannel 3. 2013-06-21. Retrieved 2013-06-25. 
  14. ^ "California Native American Tribe Announces Support of Same Sex Marriage: Santa Ysabel Tribe First in California to Make Proclamation". Rock Hill Herald Online. 2013-06-24. Retrieved 2013-06-25. 
  15. ^ Gardner, Steven (August 1, 2011). "Suquamish Tribe approves same-sex marriage". Kitsap Sun. Archived from the original on August 2, 2011. Retrieved August 2, 2011. 
  16. ^ a b "Oregon tribe to allow same-sex marriages". August 22, 2008. Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  17. ^ "Cherokee High Court Rules in Favor of NCLR and Same-Sex Couple" (Press release). National Center for Lesbian Rights. January 4, 2006. Retrieved January 1, 2010. 
  18. ^ "Chapter 31: Marriage Ordinance". Tribal Code. Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. Enacted July 5, 1995. Including Updates Through 2004. 
  19. ^ "Title 6: Domestic Relations and Families" (PDF). Chickasaw Nation Code. Chickasaw Nation. Amended as of October 1, 2009. Retrieved January 6, 2010. 
  20. ^ a b "Few Oklahoma tribes have same-sex marriage rule". May 19, 2004. Retrieved October 1, 2010. "Few Oklahoma tribes have a policy affecting same-sex marriages, The Daily Oklahoman reports. Of several tribes the paper contacted, only the Creek Nation and the Iowa Tribe define marriage as between a man and a woman." 
  21. ^ Dempsey, Pamela (April 23, 2005). "Navajo Nation officially bans same-sex marriage". The Independent (Gallup, NM). Diné Bureau. Retrieved January 1, 2010. "Same-sex unions are now officially banned on the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation Council passed the Diné Marriage Act of 2005 with a 67–0–0 vote on Friday." 
  22. ^ Norrell, Brenda (May 5, 2005). "Navajo president vetoes gay marriage ban". Indian Country Today. Retrieved January 1, 2010. 
  23. ^ "Tribal challenge to same-sex marriage dismissed". Indianz.Com. August 4, 2005. Retrieved January 1, 2010. 

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