The Native American Cherokee Nation has lifted its ban on same sex marriage.
Although gay marriage was legalised across all 50 states last year, the Native American nations within the borders of the United States are not obligated to recognise the decision.
The Cherokee Nation is one of the two biggest Native American tribes in the US, alongside the Navajos. They each have an estimated 300,000 members. Until this week, neither allowed gay marriage. However, the Cherokee Nation’s ban was only enacted in 2004, when the Marriage and Family Act declared that marriage must involve one man and one woman.
This week, Attorney General of the Cherokee Nation Todd Hembree ruled that the ban represents a “break within the [Cherokee] constitution”. Speaking to CNN about his decision, he said marriage rights should be available to “all Cherokee citizens, regardless of sexual orientation”.
From now on, the Cherokee Nation “must recognise validly issued civil unions, same-sex marriages, and same-sex domestic partnerships from other jurisdictions” Hembree declared.
The decision to overturn the ban came because the nation’s tax officials were unsure how to deal with same sex marriage licences issued by the state of Oklahoma, where most Cherokees live. As the tribal court had declined to rule on the matter, Hembree made an executive decision to allow gay couples to marry.
Dawn McKinley and Kathy Reynolds’ attempts to marry back in 2004 provoked the initial ban. They said they were “overwhelmed” by the Attorney General’s decision because they “didn’t expect his opinion to go this way at all”. When he was a lawyer for the Cherokee Nation, Hembree had argued that the tribe had the right to refuse the couple a marriage licence.
Photo by Steve Snodgrass via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.