The Suquamish Tribe has extended marriage rights to same-sex couples. The tribe, which is located in Seattle, Washington, adopted the ordinance, following a unanimous vote by the Suquamish Tribal Council.
Heather Purser, an openly gay member of the tribe, had worked to change the marriage laws to include same-sex couples. In March 2011, she asked the council to vote. A public hearing was held in June; the ordinance was adopted on Monday. At least one member of the same-sex couple has to be a member of the tribe to be able to marry in the jurisdiction.
According to The Seattle Times, Pursar is in a committed relationship, but has no immediate plans to marry.
The Suquamish Tribe is not the first to amend its constitution to include same-sex marriage rights.
In 2008, the Coquille Tribal Council extended all of the tribal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. The Coquille Tribe is located in Coos Bay, Oregon, where the state’s constitution prohibits same-sex marriage. As a federally recognized sovereign nation, however, the tribe is not bound to the 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
The law went into effect in May 2009. The first same-sex couple was married May 24, 2009.
Same-Sex Marriage Challenges
Although same-sex marriage is not permitted under Cherokee law, Kathy Reynolds and Dawn McKinley are citizens of the Cherokee Nation, and they are married. In May 2004, the couple applied for, and was issued a marriage license. They immediately were married.
Tom Hembree, a lawyer for the Cherokee Tribal Council, asked the tribal court to nullify the marriage in June. He argued that same-sex marriage was not covered under Cherokee law. The Cherokee Nation Tribal Council unanimously passed a measure, banning same-sex marriage.
On August 3, 2005, the Cherokee Court ruled that Mr. Hembree lacked standing to bring suit challenging the validity of the marriage because he could not show that he would suffer individualized harm. On August 5, nine members of the Cherokee Council filed a petition in the Judicial Appeals Tribunal of the Cherokee Nation, the highest Cherokee court.
McKinley and Reynolds were represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights. According the NCLR, “The court held that legislators must demonstrate a specific, individualized harm in order to challenge the validity of a person’s marriage, regardless of whether the marriage is between a different-sex or a same-sex couple.” The court also rejected the council members’ argument that the marriage would injure the reputation of the Cherokee Nation. The court reached its decision in Decemeber 2005.
The Cherokee Nation is located in Oklahoma, where the state’s constitution was amended to ban same-sex marriage. Because of the Cherokee Nation’s marriage amendment, McKinley and Reynolds are the only same-sex couple whose marriage is legally recognized.