On Friday, the Attorney General for the Cherokee Nation advised that the sovereign nation of approximately 300,000 will now recognize same-sex marriages. The announcement came after a tribal court had only recently avoided making a definitive ruling on the matter, but the tribe’s attorney general said that in times gone by, the Cherokees had already practiced something similar to gay marriage.
The fact that the tribe is a sovereign nation meant that it was not legally affected by the 2015 decision of the United States Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage across all 50 states. However, the decision on Friday was largely affected by that ruling. Todd Hembree, the attorney general to the tribe, also stated that the constitution which governs the Cherokee Nation “protects the fundamental right to marry” regardless of the genders of those involved in the relationship.
“The right to marry without the freedom to marry the person of one’s choice is no right at all. The history of perpetual partnerships and marriage among Cherokees supports the conclusion that Cherokee citizens have a fundamental right not only to choose a spouse but also, with mutual consent, to join together and form a household irrespective of sexual orientation.”
According to Towleroad, it was a request from the tribe’s tax commissioner a few weeks ago which prompted Hembree to release an official opinion about same-sex marriage yesterday. The assistant to the attorney general, Chrissi Nimmo told the media that their office had been contacted numerous times by the departments of the Cherokee Nation on how to handle certain issues regarding same-sex marriage.
Hembree also called upon the oral history which the Cherokee Nation has maintained and the differences between their practices and worldview and that of their Euro-American countrymen. Towleroad also reported of Hembree’s notation that gender roles and sexuality was introduced to the tribes through Christianity. It is these Biblical teachings which really governs majority of the resistance to gay marriage but before this religion, alternative sexual orientations had been recognized.
“Our oral history teaches us also that the Cherokee and Euro-American worldviews differed dramatically regarding appropriate gender roles, marriage, sexuality, and spiritual beliefs. Indeed, while the majority of Cherokees subscribed to the traditional gender roles, evidence suggests a tradition of homosexuality or alternative sexuality among a minority of Cherokees.”
Friday’s opinion means an end to the law known as the Cherokee Nation and Family Protection Act, which the Cherokee Nation had enacted 12 years ago in 2004 that specified only marriages between a man and a woman would be recognized by the tribe.
That law had been passed after two women, Kathy Reynolds and Dawn McKinley had gotten a marriage license from the tribe that was later deemed invalid by then Attorney General Diane Hammons. It was that very case that the tribal court had had the opportunity to review recently as the validity of the marriage license obtained by Reynolds and McKinley is still under question, but had dismissed on a technicality and not addressed at the October court session.
In the Navajo Nation, among some other Native American tribes, same-sex marriage remains illegal, but Nimmo believes that most tribes have not taken a stance one way or the other.
The recognition of same-sex marriage among the Cherokee takes effect immediately and falls in line with the beliefs of many others in the U.S. Nimmo anticipates that while some tribe members will embrace the news, there will undoubtedly be others who will not like it. Nonetheless, as Tulsa World has stipulated, under Cherokee law the opinion of the attorney general carries a force of law similar to state legislation being passed. Chrissi Nimmo also went on to stress that there is nothing in the opinion which would coerce any minister or Cherokee tribe member to participate in a gay wedding.
Though the opinion which Todd Hembree’s enacted is “binding and considered legally valid,” the possibility exists that it could be challenged in court by other Cherokee officials.
Social media was soon awash with excitement from supporters of the decision.
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