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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 16, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 51
Cherokee Nation to recognize same-sex marriages
Section One
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Cherokee Nation to recognize same-sex marriages

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Cherokee Nation, the country's largest Native American tribe, will now recognize same-sex marriages.

Cherokee Attorney General Todd Hembree ruled on December 9 that all Cherokee tribal members are entitled to marriage rights regardless of their sexual orientation. His ruling invalidates the 2004 Cherokee Nation and Family Protection Act, which restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples.

Like many Native American tribes, the Cherokee Nation is considered a sovereign and self-governing nation in both Cherokee and US law and is entitled to make its own laws governing the marriages of tribe members.

Hembree ruled on a question put to him by the Cherokee Tax Commission. A recently married woman was trying to obtain a Cherokee Nation ID card for her new spouse, another woman. The Tax Commission asked Hembree whether it could recognize a same-sex marriage.

Hembree said, 'Yes.'

'The constitution affords these rights to all Cherokee citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, and the Cherokee Nation, or any subdivision, must recognize validly issued civil unions, same-sex marriages, and same-sex domestic partnerships from other jurisdictions,' Hembree wrote.

The opinion goes into effect immediately. While it can be challenged by other Cherokee officials, Hembree told ABC News in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that he saw no reason why anyone would.

Chad Smith, who was tribal chief when the now-invalidated law was passed in 2004, said he approves of the change.

'Our constitution incorporates the provisions of the US Constitution, and the Supreme Court (of the United States) has since made its ruling,' Smith told CNN.

'The fact that they would voluntarily do this is a really great thing,' said Ryan Payne, who is both a US citizen and Cherokee Nation citizen. 'It speaks to the progression of the tribe and the nation as a whole...

'For someone like myself, who is both a Cherokee citizen and a US citizen, to be able to have that recognized on both levels, you really do have that full sense of equality.'

Payne added that the change is a monumental step for the LGBT community and would allow members to re-embarce their tribal heritage.

'It's going to be a welcome signal from their tribe that they are equal,' he said. 'They do have value. They do belong.'

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