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Suquamish Tribe OKs Same-Sex Marriage

Liz Jones
08/03/2011

Same–sex marriage is now legal for a tiny sliver of Washington state. This week, the Suquamish tribe on the Kitsap Peninsula became the first in Washington to approve such a measure. It's believed to be only the second tribe in the country to allow gay marriages. As KUOW's Liz Jones reports, tribes may continue to approve same–sex marriages — not because of an organized political movement, but because of the advocacy of individual tribal members.

TRANSCRIPT

The Suquamish tribe has about a thousand members. One of them, a 28–year–old Seattle woman, pushed the tribe for years to open up marriage to same–sex couples. This week, the tribal council finally approved the change.

Now, the tribal court can issue a marriage license to two men or two women, as long as one of them is a member of the tribe.

Michelle Hansen is the tribe's attorney. She says the new law gives gay couples the same marriage rights and benefits as others.

Hansen: "They don't have to leave the reservation in order to get married. They don't have to get a state, or a jurisdiction under the state type of license. They can just come here, and many tribal members would rather have those kinds of intratribal matters handled by their own government and by their own courts. So, this gives them that opportunity."

Hansen says couples can also turn to the tribal court for divorces or some paternity issues.

The seven–member Suquamish Tribal Council unanimously approved the ordinance. The head of the council says he's heard very little opposition, if any.

The Coquille tribe of Oregon appears to be the only one other tribe in the country with similar recognition for same–sex marriage.

Matthew Fletcher: "In general, I think it's kind of off the radar."

Matthew Fletcher is an associate professor of law at Michigan State University. He also directs the school's Indigenous Law Center.

He's surprised more tribes haven't moved in this direction, but he thinks that may be changing.

Fletcher: "My sense is that this is going to happen more and more frequently in Indian Country, just as it's happening more and more frequently in states around the country. Unlike the states though, I think it's going to happen more accidentally."

By that, he means through a tribal member's advocacy or action rather than through an organized political effort.

The Suquamish tribal lands are on the Port Madison Indian Reservation in Kitsap County. The tribe counts Chief Seattle among its members.

I'm Liz Jones, KUOW News.

© Copyright 2011, KUOW

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