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Southeast Alaska Tribal Organization OKs Gay Marriage

Thursday Feb 26, 2015
Southeast Alaska Tribal Organization OKs Gay Marriage

Southeast Alaska's largest tribal organization has given the go-ahead to its courts to perform weddings for gay couples.

The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska announced its new policy Monday following a decision by its seven-member governing board. The panel voted unanimously last week to define legal marriage without a gender requirement, CoastAlaska News reported (http://is.gd/KC4RqN).

Gay marriages have been allowed throughout Alaska since a federal court decision last year. The state is appealing, but same-sex weddings continue to move forward.

Council president Richard Peterson said his organization's decision was about exercising its governing authority.

"It's something we can do to extend our sovereignty for all of our tribal citizens," Peterson said. "It's not just about the same-sex marriage and helping just one segment of our tribal citizens, but all of our tribal citizens."

The new directive also covers tribal divorces.

To qualify for marriage under the council's tribal courts, at least one person in the couple must be Tlingit or Haida. The tribes list nearly 30,000 members in Alaska and elsewhere.

The U.S. Supreme Court last month announced it would hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have the right to marry in every state. The cases will be argued in April, and a decision is expected by late June.

When it comes to gay marriage, tribal authorities are moving in the same direction as the rest of the nation, according to Evan Wolfson, president of the national advocacy group Freedom to Marry.

Tribal governments that have approved same-sex marriages in recent years are listed by the advocacy group and include the Puyallup Tribe of Indians in Washington state, the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon and the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes in Oklahoma.

"Members of the tribes know what it's like to experience discrimination," Wolfson said. "They know what it's like to be shoved outside, to be looked down on. And I think what tribal authorities are saying is that, out of that history, we know it's important that we not commit the same kinds of discrimination, that we not isolate people, that we not harm them."

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Gay Marriage

This story is part of our special report titled "Gay Marriage." Want to read more? Here's the full list.


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