Native American Tribe Officiates Same-Sex Marriage in Spite of Oklahoma's Ban

One of the few Native American tribes in the U.S. that approves of same-sex marriage has begun officiating same-sex marriages in Oklahoma, in spite of the state's ban against the practice. Couples who are married by the tribe will receive federal marriage benefits but not state benefits.

The Cheyenne-Arapaho tribe in Oklahoma is one of few tribes in the country to recognize same-sex marriage, and told couple Darren Black Bear, 45, and his partner Jason Pickel, 36, that it would agree to officiate their upcoming nuptials. As a federally-recognized Native American tribe, the Cheyenne-Arapahoe is allowed to approve of laws for its land and people, and although its approval of same-sex marriage will not be recognized by the state of Oklahoma, it will be recognized federally, and therefore Black Bear and Pickel will receive the federal benefits awarded to them through the June Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act.

Black Bear told the Associated Press that he hopes other tribes in the U.S. will follow suit and begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses as well. "The fact that the Cheyenne Arapaho Tribes here in Oklahoma are progressive enough to follow federal guidelines, I'm pretty sure that [others will] start issuing marriage licenses within their tribes. I'm hopeful they will," he said.

Additionally, Lisa Liebl, public relations director for the Cheyenne-Arapahoe tribe, told Al Jazeera America in an email that Pickel and Black Bear are the third couple to have received a marriage license from the state's Cheyenne-Arapahoe tribe.

In 2004, 75 percent of Oklahoma voters passed an amendment to the state's constitution that explicitly affirmed the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, and therefore banning same-sex marriage or civil unions. The amendment also makes it a misdemeanor offense to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The state's Gov. Mary Fallin (R) has previously voiced her opposition to same-sex marriage. In September, she ordered the state's National Guard to stop processing requests for same-sex married couples to receive military benefits.

Fallin said in spite of a Pentagon directive issued earlier in the summer, she would be going against the wishes of Oklahoma voters and state law by allowing same-sex couples to receive military benefits.

"Because of that prohibition, Gov. Fallin's general counsel has advised the National Guard not to process requests for benefits of same-sex couples," Alex Weintz, a spokesperson for Gov. Fallin's office, said in September. "Gay couples that have been legally married in other states will be advised they can apply for those benefits on federal facilities, such as Tinker Air Force Base, rather than state run facilities."

Fallin has previously expressed her support for traditional marriage, saying in a statement following the Supreme Court's rulings on gay marriage this summer: "When given the opportunity to vote on the issue [in 2004], seventy-five percent of Oklahoma voters supported a constitutional amendment declaring that 'marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.' Like the vast majority of Oklahomans, I support traditional marriage. I do not and will not support expanding the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples."