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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 25 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 43
Oklahoma same-sex couple marries under tribal law
Section One
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Oklahoma same-sex couple marries under tribal law

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Jason Pickel and Darren Black Bear became the first Gay couple to marry in Oklahoma when they were united on October 21 under Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal law.

Pickel and Black Bear, residents of Oklahoma, wanted to marry for the past five years, and had been planning a trip to Iowa, the nearest state where same-sex marriages are legal. But the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down DOMA gave Pickel an idea.

He phoned the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Courthouse and asked if tribal law permitted Gay couples to marry.

'COME ON DOWN'
'I was really expecting a big No,' said Pickel. 'I thought we were on our way to Iowa, but I called the tribe and they said, 'Yeah, come on down. It's 20 bucks.'

Pickel and Black Bear met the requirements specified by tribal law - both are of Native American descent and they live within the tribe's jurisdiction. Nowhere does tribal law specify the gender of people who may marry.

Same-sex marriages have been illegal under Oklahoma law since 2004, when voters passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as applying only to opposite-sex couples. But the state's 39 federally recognized tribes are sovereign entities and are self-governing within their own jurisdictions.

'I do know at the end of the day the state offices won't recognize it, but they kind of have to,' said Pickel.

Because their marriage is recognized under the jurisdiction of the federally recognized Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe, Pickel and Black Bear are eligible for all the federal rights and benefits available to any married couple.

EQUALITY THEIR GOAL
The couple say they plan to hold a public wedding celebration on Halloween, but their happiness is still incomplete.

'When we have equality in all 50 states and all U.S. territories, that is when we'll have true equality,' said Pickel. 'That's when I will be truly, truly happy.'

A number of other Native American tribes that have approved same-sex marriage, including the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon (2009), the Suquamish Tribe in Washington state (2011), the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan (2013), the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington state (2013), the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians in Michigan (2013), and the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel in California (2013).

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