Gay couple uses tribal law to marry in Oklahoma

Liz Goodwin
Senior National Affairs Reporter

A same-sex couple successfully applied for a marriage license in Oklahoma despite the state’s strict rules against gay marriage. The pair used a legal loophole to get the license last Friday under tribal law, which doesn't fall under the state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as occurring only between a man and a woman. They plan to wed Oct. 31.

Darren Black Bear, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, was able to get a marriage license to wed his partner of nine years, Jason Pickel, because the tribe’s legal system does not specify two people must be of different genders to be wed.

Rosemary Stephens, the editor in chief of the tribes’ Tribal Tribune, told Yahoo News another gay couple in the tribe wed in December 2012 under the law, but did not make their union public. At least one person in the couple must be an enrolled member of the tribe in order to get a marriage license, however. 

Stephens said no one in the tribe has raised any objections to the practice of giving out marriage licenses to both straight and gay couples. “They’re held in high esteem,” Stephens said of Black Bear and Pickel.

While Oklahoma won’t recognize the marriage, the federal government most likely will, thanks to last June's Supreme Court decision that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The court said the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages, but said states are free to ignore and prohibit them if they want.

There is still confusion about what the ruling means for the rights of same-sex married couples who live in states that don’t recognize them, which will most likely be worked out in future court battles.

Pickel plans to take Black Bear’s last name, and the two hope to file their federal taxes jointly, Stephens said. The men are marrying in Watonga, Okla.

“When we have equality in all 50 states and all U.S. territories, that is when we'll have true equality,” Pickel told a local TV station. “That's when I will be truly, truly happy.” Pickel didn't immediately return a request for comment from Yahoo News.

The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes have nearly 12,500 members, about 60 percent of whom live in Oklahoma.