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Handful of tribes dig in against gay marriage

Updated: 2015-04-08 07:03
By Associated Press in Raleigh, North Carolina (China Daily)

Even if a US Supreme Court ruling this spring makes same-sex marriage the law of the land, it would leave pockets of the country where it isn't likely to be recognized soon: the reservations of a handful of sovereign Native American tribes, including the two largest.

Since 2011, as the number of states recognizing such unions spiked to 37, at least six smaller tribes have revisited and let stand laws that define marriage as being between a man and a woman, according to a review of tribal records by The Associated Press. In all, tribes with a total membership approaching 1 million bar same-sex marriage. Several explicitly prohibit such unions, and some have even toughened their stances.

In December, weeks after North Carolina began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the state's Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians updated tribal law to add language preventing same-sex couples from performing marriages on tribal lands.

The Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma and the Navajo Nation in the US Southwest, with about 300,000 members each, maintain laws enacted decades ago that don't recognize same-sex marriage. Neither has shown much sign of shifting.

As with US states, attitudes about gay marriage vary among tribes. At least 10 have recognized same-sex marriage. Many others are neutral.

The US Supreme Court will take up gay marriage this month, but Native American tribes have sovereign status, so a high court ruling would not directly affect their laws.

The Osage Nation, bordering Tulsa, Oklahoma, passed a wide-ranging marriage law in 2012 that doesn't recognize same-sex unions. John Hawk Co-Cke', an enrolled member who is gay, said many tribes historically had no problem with men who embraced their feminine side or women who balanced their masculine side, inspiring the term "two-spirit people".

He said the spread of Christianity on reservations contributed to a change in attitude that is reflected in laws reserving marriage for heterosexuals.

"It saddens me, but I don't blame them because they have been forced to give in," said Co-Cke', who was raised as a Methodist but has led two-spirit retreats for years.

Co-Cke' said he respects the faith he was raised in, but learning about Native American traditions that date back further helped him become comfortable with being gay.

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