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Gay couple in Okla. to marry despite ban

Some tribes’ laws allow same-sex marriage

Darren Black Bear, left, and Jason Pickel hold up their marriage license issued by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes near Jason's home in Oklahoma City, Thursday. Despite Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage, the couple will be legally married in the state thanks to Black Bear, who is a member of the Oklahoma-based Cheyenne Arapaho Tribes. It'’s among the few Native American tribes in the U.S. that allow same-sex marriage. AP photo

Darren Black Bear, left, and Jason Pickel hold up their marriage license issued by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes near Jason's home in Oklahoma City, Thursday. Despite Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage, the couple will be legally married in the state thanks to Black Bear, who is a member of the Oklahoma-based Cheyenne Arapaho Tribes. It'’s among the few Native American tribes in the U.S. that allow same-sex marriage. AP photo

OKLAHOMA CITY — Darren Black Bear hasn’t thought too much about his upcoming nuptials, though the wedding will be a rare sight: He and his partner are getting legally married in Oklahoma even though the state bans same-sex marriage.

How? His bloodline.

Black Bear and his partner of nine years, Jason Pickel, plan to walk each other down the aisle Thursday, surrounded by family and friends, before signing a marriage license granted by the Cheyenne Arapaho Tribes. Black Bear, 45, is a member of the Oklahoma-based tribe, which is among the few Native American tribes in the U.S. that allow same-sex marriage.

Like all federally recognized tribes, the Cheyenne Arapaho can approve laws for its land and members. Its code regarding marriage doesn’t address gender, referring to the parties simply as “Indians,” and requires that one person be a member of the tribe and reside within its jurisdiction.

“I’m just really happy we are able to finally get married,” Pickel said. “And one day, when we have true equality in all 50 states, we will hopefully have all the same benefits and rights in every state.”

At least six other tribes allow same-sex marriage, including the Coquille Tribe in Oregon and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan, states that also ban same-sex marriage, according to national gay marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry. Other tribes, such as the Cherokee Nation, specifically bar gay marriage.

Like gay couples who legally marry in other states, Black Bear and Pickel won’t be awarded state benefits given to married couples in Oklahoma. But they will receive federal marriage benefits, and they said a primary reason they decided to marry was to enable Pickel to be added to Black Bear’s health insurance. Black Bear hopes other tribes follow suit.

“The fact that the Cheyenne Arapaho Tribes here in Oklahoma are progressive enough to follow federal guidelines, I’m pretty sure that they’ll (other tribes) start issuing marriage licenses within their tribes. I’m hopeful they will,” he said.

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