Native American tribes split on same-sex marriage

by Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez, |
Bill John Baker is the current Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. First elected in October 2011, Baker defeated three-term incumbent Chief Chad Smith. Prior to his election as Chief, Baker served 12 years on the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council. | Cherokee Tribal Council

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (Christian Examiner) -- As the U.S. Supreme Court soon decides on the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, some Native American tribes are not expected to recognize the unions on their reservations regardless of the high court's ruling.

Various tribal court records show that in recent years some sovereign Native American tribes have reviewed their definition of marriage and legally reinforced their recognition of marriage as only the union of one man and one woman.

Cherokee member Tommy Wildcat, plays music after being recognized as a Cherokee Nation National Treasure. The Cherokee Nation is the largest federally recognized tribe in the United States. | Cherokee Nation Facebook

The largest tribal nation in the U.S., the Oklahoma based Cherokee Nation, includes more than 317, 000 members. In June 2004 the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council unanimously passed a marriage act "specifically banning same-sex marriage."

Also among the largest federally recognized tribes which prohibit "marriage between persons of the same sex," is the 250,000-plus member Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation extends into the states of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, where gay marriages are legal.

Some credit the spread of Christianity on reservations as the reason some tribes have taken stands for traditional marriage.

The Cherokee Nation Tourism website documents that the first known Cherokee conversion occurred in 1773. It also states the first permanent Christian mission in the Cherokee Nation was established while the tribe was still in Georgia and was called Moravian Mission.

Some homosexual activists claim the Cherokees and Navajo are going against Native American tradition.

John Hawk Co-Cke' (co-KAY), a gay member of the Osage Nation told AP that prior to the introduction of Christianity, Native Americans tolerated homosexuality.

Overall, 11 tribes oppose legalization of same-sex marriage and 10 tribes support it, according to a related AP report.

Lindsay Robertson, director of Oklahoma University's Center for the Study of American Indian Law and Policy, told the news source gay Native Americans could push for the legalization of same-sex marriages under the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.

According to Robertson, the legislation extends some provisions under the Bill of Rights to tribal members and could open a window to challenge tribes' marriage laws in tribal courts.