A Native American tribe in Oklahoma has voted to recognize same-sex tribal marriage, becoming one of only a few dozen sovereign nations in the U.S. to explicitly recognize such unions.
After an historic vote, citizens of the Osage Nation amended its marriage law in late March with 52-percent of the vote. Although there are an estimated 15,000 registered Osage voters, only 1,123 cast their ballots, Osage News reported.
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“I know that for a lot of people it was a controversial issue, but for me it was not,” Congresswoman Alice Buffalohead said to supporters on the eve of the results. “It was just about equality and guaranteeing that we all have equal rights under the law.” Buffalohead is the referendum’s author.
NBC News reported that there was no formal opposition, but there were some Osages concerned that the change in law would go against tradition.
“I knew (the vote) was gonna be a huge challenge to get a typically conservative and religious electorate to pass marriage equality, so it being such a close race was no surprise,” Henry Roanhorse Gray told NBC Out. “It really shows the importance of voting – history was truly made by the ones who showed up.”
Gray, 23, told NBC News he hopes the vote will turn the tide in Indian country with regard to gay marriage.
“To every Native kid just beginning to understand who they are inside, the tribe has made it clear we support and love them,” he said.
In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage, but because federally-recognized tribes are self-determining, sovereign nations, the ruling did not impact tribal laws.
“This was overdue,” Jennifer Tiger, an Osage member, told Osage News of the passage. “The United States Supreme Court recognized gay marriage two years ago. This was long overdue.”
Only a few dozen of the 567 federally-recognized tribes explicitly recognize same-sex tribal marriage, LGBTQ Nation reports. The Cherokee Nation, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe – each in Oklahoma – also recognize same-sex tribal marriages.