US: Native American tribe hosts first legal Michigan same-sex wedding

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The first same-sex wedding ceremony has taken place in the US state of Michigan, following a Native American tribe signing equal marriage into law.

Earlier this month the legislative body of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians voted 5-4 on 3 March to amend its laws to allow equal marriage.

Tim LaCroix, 53, a member of the tribe and Gene Barfield, 60, were married on Friday by the tribe’s chairman, Dexter McNamara, who also signed the bill to allow equal marriage.

McNamara said: “I’ve always felt that either you believe in equal rights or you are prejudiced… We don’t have a dividing line in this tribe. Everyone deserves to live the lives of their choice.”

Despite equal marriage being barred in the state of Michigan, and despite the Defense of Marriage Act, tribal sovereignty allows the Odawa tribe to govern itself, reports USA Today.

“This is their turf,” Barfield said. “They have their own government, they have their own police force, they have their own rules and regulations. They’re very big on respect, and for them to say to us ‘We respect your relationship and your prerogative to define it as you choose’, is really special.

“We’ve been partners for 30 years in the way people use the word ‘partner’ for a same sex couple,” Barfield said. “Now we’re not going to be partners anymore. We’re going to be spouses.”

LaCroix also commented, saying: “I’m so proud of my tribe for doing this. I just can’t say enough.”

Following McNamara signing the bill into law, tribe communications coordinator Annette VanDeCar spoke to the crowd, and admitted that not everyone within the tribe agreed with it.

She said: “There are people in our community that aren’t supportive of what is happening today, but that’s OK. We as Indians are taught to respect people as individuals, and as individual people have the right to decide what is best for them.”

At least two other Native American tribes recognise equal marriage.

In 2008, the Coquille Indian Tribe on the southern Oregon coast, who are a federally recognised sovereign nation, are not bound by Oregon’s constitution, and so allowed equal marriage amongst its members.

In 2011, the Suquamish Tribal Council voted to give marriage rights to gay couples on its Seattle reservation.

Michigan’s Constitution bans equal marriage, but in January, its Court of Appeals has upheld a policy from the Michigan Civil Service Commission which grants healthcare benefits to same-sex partners of state employees.