By a unanimous vote on July 9, the Puyallup Tribal Council passed an amendment to the tribal domestic relations code to add a section legalizing same-sex marriages. This not only puts the Tribe in line with Washington State’s same-sex marriage law but also places the Puyallups among the leadership nationwide of Indian tribes that have passed similar resolutions in response to the movement for same-sex marriage that is slowly but surely sweeping across the country.
“People who are gay or lesbian could not marry the person they love on this reservation and now they can,” said Council Member Maggie Edwards who authored the amendment with tribal attorney Toni Whitegrass.
The Domestic Relations Code now states (see full resolution accompanying this article):
Same Sex Marriage may be validly contracted within the Puyallup Indian Reservation either by following the laws of the State of Washington or by meeting the requirements herein:
a) One of the persons who wishes to marry must be a member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians; and
b) Must be 18 years of age or older; and
Must obtain and sign a certificate of marriage in front of witnesses.
Maggie Edwards said the impetus to write the amendment came to her after tribal members had asked her why the Tribe doesn’t allow for couples of the same sex to marry. “It’s really about equal treatment of all your members – all your members should have the same rights and under the circumstances prior to the enactment of the resolution, they didn’t all have the same rights,” she said.
Online research shows that Indian tribes that have taken the lead in establishing same-sex marriage rights include the Colville and Suquamish tribes in Washington, the Coquille Tribe (Oregon),
the Leech Lake Band of Objibwe (Minnesota), the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians (Michigan) and the Santa Ysabel Tribe (California). The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes were granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples by 2013, without any change to their marriage laws.
To write the amendment, Maggie Edwards tapped into the Colville Tribe’s treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, also known as “Two-Spirit People” that have always had a special place in Colville society. As stated in the Puyallup’s resolution: “WHEREAS, LGBT, (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgendered) persons have been acknowledged in tribal societies pre-European Colonization of America; and n a good and respectful way, they have been known in tribal custom and tradition as “Two-Spirit People” and this refers to the traditional belief that LGBT people have both a Male and Female Spirit inside them, which allows them to transcend traditional gender barriers;…”
“They have an historic perspective of Two-Spirit People and I really like that,” Maggie Edwards said.
Maggie Edwards noted that now the Puyallup Tribe’s marriage law is in keeping with the Tribe’s open-hearted tradition of embracing all sorts of people who could otherwise be shunned or treated badly out in the broader community. They’re welcome on the Puyallup’s reservation, she said. “In the outer culture, people can be mean if you’re different. We embrace each other regardless of our lumps, bumps and whoever we love – that’s just how it is here.”