Some Native Americans tribes support gay marriage

Getty Images file photo

Getty Images file photo

Thanksgiving was originally a one-time celebration by the Pilgrims to thank the Wampanoag tribe for letting them settle in Plymouth, Mass., and for teaching them how to avoid starvation in the new continent. This week, we should take time to thank the Native American tribes that have recently embraced marriage equality and have performed same-sex marriage ceremonies in their tribes.

Last month, a same-sex couple got married in Oklahoma, a state that currently bans gay marriage. The couple was able to obtain a marriage license through the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, a federally recognized sovereign nation not subject to state laws. The tribe’s marriage laws are not gender-specific and, despite some internal disputes about same-sex unions, tribal leaders have stood behind the current law.

Shortly after, another gay marriage ceremony, the first for the Lake Leech Tribe, was performed in Minnesota on Nov. 15. The couple had been pushing for the right to marry under tribal laws for two years, but it wasn’t until after Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage in August that they were finally allowed to marry.

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overruling the Defense of Marriage Act forces the federal government to recognize these marriages. Since the DOMA strike-down in June, the number of tribes that have adopted same-sex marriage laws has doubled.

The tribes “are reaching back to ancient history of their particular culture’s oral tradition, anthropological tradition, historic documentation of settlers, to say, ‘OK, this is, in fact, a basic human right in our culture,’” Brian Gilley, a professor of anthropology at Indiana University and author of “Becoming Two-Spirit: Gay Identity and Social Acceptance in Indian Country,” told Time magazine.

Oregon’s Coquille Indian tribe led the way by being the first to marry gay couples in 2009. In California, only the Santa Ysabel tribe in San Diego County allows same-sex marriage, a decision reached by their tribal court just last summer.

Even though gay marriage may be a recent legal right for some tribe members, many Native American tribes have a rich history of acceptance of same-sex partnerships. More than 130 Native American tribes embrace mixed-gender roles where certain members can take on both masculine and feminine traits and responsibilities. Two-spirits, as they are commonly known, traverse the male and female spectrum in both work and recreation. For example, a man considered two-spirit could fight in war but help out around the home, all the while being able to take part in both men’s and women’s dances. Entering a same-sex relationship with a two-spirit is seen more as a practical way of solidifying a fragile family structure — often the case with widowed parents. Thus, two-spirits are recognized, often revered, as a vital part of the tribe.

Despite these traditions and recent legal strides, however, only eight Native American tribes recognize same-sex marriage. The two largest tribes in the U.S., the Cherokee and the Navajo, have both banned it. Former Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. in 2005 vetoed the voter-led ban of same-sex marriage, but his decision was overturned by the Navajo Nation Council.

Oscar Raymundo is the head of marketing at a leading LGBT media company. Email him at oraymundo@sfexaminer.com.Bay Area NewsCheyenne Arapaho TribesOscar RaymundoSame-sex marriagesame-sex marriage Native Americans

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Dave Hodges, pastor at Zide Door, the Church of Entheogenic Plants that include marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms, holds some psychedelic mushrooms inside the Oakland church on Friday, July 22, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Psychedelic spirituality: Inside a growing Bay Area religious movement

‘They are guiding us into something ineffable’

San Francisco Police stand guard outside the Mission Police Station during a protest over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd on Saturday, May 30, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Fired: California bill aims to decertify police for serious misconduct

By Robert Lewis CalMatters On a Wednesday afternoon in April 2018, Gardena… Continue reading

The Giants and Dodgers face each other again following a May series the Dodgers swept; Dodgers shortstop Gavin Lux caught stealing by Giants second baseman Donovan Solano at Oracle Park on May 23 is pictured. 
Chris Victorio/
Special to The Examiner
Giants vs. Dodgers: What you need to know before this week’s huge series

By Chris Haft Special to The Examiner That grinding noise you’ll hear… Continue reading

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday that state employees and health care workers must be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing and wear masks. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters)
California orders vaccine or testing for health care workers, state employees

By Ana B. Ibarra CalMatters Amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases and… Continue reading

Jeremy Kahn and Monica Ho are excellent in San Francisco Playhouse’s production of Lauren Yee’s “The Song of Summer,” being presented live and online. (Courtesy Jessica Palopoli)
Touching relationship at heart of ‘Song of Summer’

Lighthearted SF Playhouse show ‘feels right for this moment’

Most Read