Northern Michigan Native American tribe considering same-sex marriages on tribal land
The Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians could be the first in the state to allow and recognize gay and lesbian marriages.
The Odawas would join just a handful of states and two other tribes that allow same-sex matrimony if a proposal moves forward.
The proposal is in its infancy stage now and the reality of this being passed now lies in the hands of the tribal council.
Two Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians tribal members wrote a letter saying its time for equality. A tribal council member sponsored legislation, which if passed, would allow same-sex marriages to happen and be recognized on tribal land.
â??We have our own constitution, our own court system, and our own government here, police force, etc, DNR, so it's our right to express equality," says former Odawa Chairman Ken Harrington.
Here's what the legislation would do: It would amend the marriage statute that exists now, which says â??â??Marriageâ?? means the voluntary union of one man and one womanâ?? to say â??â??Marriageâ?? means the legal and voluntary union of two persons,â?? which would recognize gay and lesbian marriages.
This legislation was only recently proposed so members of the tribe have at least 25 days to submit comments. The earliest a vote could happen is April 22nd.
If five out of the nine tribal council members believe that this amendment should go toward the marriage statute, it would open the door for tribal land, such as the Odawa powwow grounds and the Odawa Casino to be open for gay marriage.
â??In my mind, we're all equal in our creator's eye," says Harrington.
I talked to a Native American historian who looks back 400 years and says gay and lesbians were once celebrated in the culture, considered â??two-spiritedâ?? individuals. Annette VanDeCar, one who proposed this statute, had this to say:
"â??Two-spiritâ?? people were treated no differently than other members of our tribal communities. As Native People, we feel the Creator gave each one of us a gift to share," VanDeCar says in a statement.
And Equality Michigan, a group that promotes equal rights, calls it a milestone move in the state.
"To our Native American tribes in Michigan, this is something where they can say we shouldn't have to struggle with as much as we do," says Emily Dievendorf, Policy Director for Equality Michigan.
"It's good to be a leader, it's good to see the Odawa tribe as a leader," says Harrington.
A few tribal members I talked to told me they are adamantly against this move and don't think it's right, but they wouldn't go on camera.
If the proposal is passed, that does not mean that any same-sex couple can go to the tribe and get married. At least one member of the couple has to be a tribe member.