Same-Sex Marriage Law Reflects Suquamish Tribal Values

Same-Sex Marriage Law Reflects Suquamish Tribal Values

Leonard Forsman, Chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, says that the tribe’s decision to recognize same-sex marriage reflects the community’s high value on inclusiveness and the fact that homosexuality historically has not been a divisive issue in the tribe…

Last month, the Suquamish Tribal Council amended its existing Marriage and Divorce Ordinance to permit marriages regardless of the couple’s gender. The amendment passed by a unanimous vote of the council and allows same-sex couples to receive the same treatment and benefits as opposite-sex couples. At least one person entering the marriage must be an enrolled member of the Suquamish Tribe. The amendment also provides for tribe members in civil unions entered in recognized jurisdictions to convert the union into a Suquamish Tribal marriage.

The issue of sexual orientation is not controversial in the Suquamish community. I have found no mention of sexual orientation as an issue in my research of the Tribe’s oral history or in non-Indian archival data. Some elders have stated that traditional views on same-sex interactions suggested that these individuals may have possessed unique spiritual associations. Research indicates that sexual orientation was probably not an area of great moral concern or discussion in Suquamish society before interaction with non-Indians. That same cultural value remains within the community today.

This tribal community of 1,050 members is sensitive to discrimination. Many members have experienced mistreatment based on race in their own lifetime, so the council understands the importance of ensuring that tribe members do not face discrimination in their own tribal laws, including due to sexual orientation. Tribe members view the amendment as an expression of the high value they place on inclusiveness and acceptance of diverse views within our community. This amendment embodies the Suquamish people’s ultimate exercise of its inherent right as a sovereign government to address the essential social question of whom Suquamish Tribe members can choose to marry.

Leonard Forsman is the Chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, located on Port Madison Indian Reservation in Puget Sound in Washington state. Forsman served on the Tribal Council for fifteen years and has been the elected Chairman since 2005. He holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Washington and a master’s degree in historic preservation from Goucher College. He is the former director of the Suquamish Museum and worked as a professional archaeologist for over a decade for a private consulting firm.

Suggested citation: Leonard Forsman, Same-Sex Marriage Law Reflects Suquamish Tribal Values, JURIST – Hotline, Sept. 14, 2011,

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