In the latest news about same-sex marriage nationally, two men have just wed in Oklahoma, a state that does not permit same-sex marriage. How did this happen, you may ask? They wed on a native American reservation.
Darren Black Bear and Jason Pickel, who are both of Native American descent, were issued a marriage license from the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Tribal Court, which does not specify gender in its marriage laws. The two men asked to be issued a marriage license as far back as 2009, but at that time because of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act they were denied.
According to Cheyenne and Arapahoe Tribal Spokesman Lisa Liebl, in order to be issued a marriage license by the tribe, both spouses must be of Native American descent and live within the jurisdiction of the tribe.
So why is it that even though they live within the state of Oklahoma, they were still allowed to marry? This is because Native American tribal law, such as that of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes, is separate from the law of the state(s) wherein the tribes and/or reservations are located. With the collapse of DOMA then, the people who live within the jurisdictions of those tribes, and who were married according to tribal laws, become eligible for a slew of federal marital benefits, including social security, tax, and medical benefits, for which they were heretofore ineligible.
Restrictions on same-sex marriage continue to be challenged by different parties, and more and more jurisdictions continue to strike down prohibitions and restrictions on same sex marriage. Marriage licenses for same sex couples are, for example, now being issued in New Jersey, where up until last week only civil unions were allowed. In Pennsylvania, same-sex marriage is still prohibited, but the ACLU lawsuit challenging the PA Defense of Marriage Law is continuing to progress.
Our PA family lawyers are keeping a close eye on developments involving same sex marriage legislation and court challenges. Contact us today with any questions you may have!