How Gay Oklahoma Couple James Pickel and Darren Black Bear Legally Married in the ‘Reddest’ State
A gay couple living in what is known as the most conservative state in the US has become the first to legally marry there despite a constitutional amendment banning such unions. How did they do it?
The Sooner State would sooner introduce legislation banning Sharia law or human fetuses in food than even dream of allowing LGBT couples to enjoy the equality they take for granted. There’s a reason why Oklahoma is known as the ‘reddest state,’ after all, Mitt Romney won every single county here in last year’s presidential election. We’re talking about a place where a high school valedictorian with a perfect 4.0 grade point average was denied her diploma because she said the word “hell” during her class’ graduation address, where converting a marijuana plant into hashish is punishable by life imprisonment. Oklahoma makes Arizona look like San Francisco. Not only is gay marriage banned by constitutional amendment approved by three out of every four voting Oklahomans, gay sex remains a felony in the state, technically punishable by 10 years in prison— the same sentence as second-degree murder, although such laws have been declared unconstitutional for more than a decade now.
Yet somehow, 36-year-old James Pickel and Darren Black Bear, 45, were able to legally tie the knot in Oklahoma. They did so by taking advantage of this year’s Supreme Court decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law that had defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Pickel contacted the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes’ courthouse and inquired if he and Black Bear could marry.
“I was really expecting a big no,” Pickel told KOCO. “I thought, ‘we’re on our way to Iowa,’ but I called the tribe and they said, ‘yeah, come on down, it’s 20 bucks.'”
Tribal requirements stipulated only that both individuals wishing to marry be of Native American descent and live within tribal jurisdiction. Black Bear is a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes and lives in Concho, where the tribe is based, and since gender didn’t matter under tribal law, the couple was legally married in the eyes of the US government, if not the state of Oklahoma. They can file for federal tax credits and other benefits enjoyed by married couples.
“I do know at the end of the day the state offices won’t recognize it, but they kind of have to,” Pickel said of his marriage.
But not all members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes are pleased with the marriage, or the national attention it’s getting.
“These men are receiving their 15 minutes of fame to the detriment of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes as a sovereign nation,” Ida Hoffman, the tribe’s chief of staff, told the Los Angeles Times. Hoffman added that he plans to “make sure [same-sex marriages are] prohibited in the future.”
But many Native American tribes have long accepted gays and lesbians, who have been known as “two-spirit people” among countless tribes for many centuries.
That tradition continues to this day, with some Native American tribes approving same-sex marriage even before the liberal states in which they reside legalized it. Such was the case in Washington state, where the Suquamish Tribe voted to allow gay marriages in 2011. Heather Purser, a Suquamish seafood diver, approached the tribal council and asked them to consider the issue of marriage equality. The council held a voice vote.
“Everyone said ‘aye,'” Purser told the Associated Press. “No one said ‘nay.'”
“We are open and tolerant, and we want to make sure our members are offered the opportunity to be happy and free in their lives,” Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman explained. “We don’t discriminate.”
Would that we could say the same about the ‘God’-fearing folks who run Oklahoma.
It seems that Native Americans, these ancient “brute savages” who Thomas Jefferson once wrote were only worthy of “extermination or removal,” could teach today’s Oklahomans a valuable lesson in love and acceptance.
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