Two men on a Michigan Indian reservation exchanged rings Friday, a direct challenge to Michigan state law that bans gay marriage.
Tribal Chairman Dexter McNamara pronounced Tim LaCroix, 53, and Gene Barfield, 60, married against a backdrop that combined the familiar with native symbolism. The two men exchanged rings, vows, and a kiss.
The two men began their relationship three decades ago after meeting in the US Navy. To get married now fulfills a dream that has grown for many years. The two now have to adjust to being able to finally call one another husband.
The two men acknowledge that the state of Michigan does not recognize their union, but they hope their tribe’s stance might move things along. Gay people across the country are already accustomed to having their marriages recognized in some states and ignored by others. The Defense of Marriage Act allows states to ignore gay marriages performed in other states, an exception to the rule that laws recognized in one state are protected in another. The issue is so contentious that searching ‘states recognize other states laws’ in Google yields many results explicitly referring to the gay marriage debate.
A local ABC affiliate reports that the marriage was made possible through an amendment made to the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians’ marriage statute. The change did not happen overnight. When the measure was first proposed, it was rejected in a vote last summer.
Native American tribes that are recognized by the federal government are not bound by state law. Gay couples married on tribal lands are entitled to their rights within tribal courts, but there will likely be conflict if these couples ever decide to move off the reservation. Even now, the couple has to wrestle with issues of whether they will be able to file taxes as a couple or share a health care plan.
While the Michigan tribe is making history now, the tribe is not the first in the US to bless gay marriage nor the first to do so in a state where gay marriage is forbidden. According to the Associated Press, the Coquille Tribe in Oregon started recognizing unions in 2009, and Oregon also has a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Support has skyrocketed in recent years, with New York, Maryland, Washington, and several other states moving to legalize gay marriage. Massachusetts was the first state to legalize gay marriage back in 2004. Gay marriage has found acceptance in such diverse places as parts of Europe, Latin America, and a small Michigan tribe willing to defy a statewide ban.