Oklahoma tribe approves gay marriage as Native American groups debate issue


A Native American tribe in Oklahoma has voted to allow same-sex marriage, joining a small group of prominent tribes changing their law in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 decision making the practice legal in all states.

The same-sex case known as Obergefell v Hodges has rippled through the 567 federally recognized Indian Nations. As sovereign entities, they are not necessarily bound by the Supreme Court decision, leaving many in the precarious position of trying to decide whether to make the hot-button issue part of their traditional law.

“Tribes don’t have to follow Obergefell. Tribes should, unless they have a good reason not to,” said Robert Clinton, a professor specializing in tribal law at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

Unofficial results of the special election in the Osage Nation in northern Oklahoma showed 52 percent approved a referendum amending the definition of marriage in the tribe’s legal code to include same-sex couples, officials said.

The vote allows the tribe’s judicial branch to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. The Osage Nation has more than 20,000 citizens and is one of Oklahoma’s larger tribes.

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