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Native American tribe approves measure recognizing same-sex marriage

Tribal Chairman Dexter McNamara [official profile] of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians [official website], a northern Michigan Native American tribe, on Friday signed into law the Waganakising Odawak Statute 2013-003 [text, PDF], a measure approving same-sex marriage. The law repeals Waganakising Odawak Statute 2007-001 [text, PDF] which only permits marriage between one man and one woman. The newly enacted law permits same-sex marriage, so long as at least one member of the couple is a tribal citizen. However, Article I, Section 25 [text] of Michigan's state constitution bans the recognition of same-sex marriage for any purpose. Although the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive] authorizes states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in the states that allow them, federally-recognized Native American tribes are self-governing and are not bound by state laws. The tribe's new policy is likely to cause friction with the state if a same-sex couple leaves the reservation and tries to have tribal court orders enforced in state courts.

Issues surrounding same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] remain controversial throughout the US. Later this month, the US Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases related to same-sex marriage. In Hollingsworth v. Perry [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court will examine the validity of Proposition 8 [JURIST news archive], a California referendum that revoked same-sex marriage rights. In United States v. Windsor [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court will examine the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in nine US states, as well as the District of Columbia. Earlier this month, the Colorado House of Representatives voted to legalize civil unions [JURIST report] for same-sex couples. Last month the Illinois senate approved [JURIST report] same-sex marriage legislation. In January the Rhode Island House of Representatives approved a similar bill [JURIST report].

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