The Suquamish tribe of Port Madison, Washington, voted unanimously Monday to legalize recognition of same-sex marriage.
The new law allows the tribal court to issue a marriage license to two unmarried people, regardless of their sex, if they’re at least 18 years old and at least one of them is enrolled in the tribe.
It will be up to other courts to decide if unions granted under the Suquamish ordinance will be recognized elsewhere in Washington, said the tribe’s attorney, Michelle Hansen.
The Suquamish tribe is believed to be the second tribe to have instituted same-sex marriage recognition.
Washington does not currently allow for same-sex marriages within the state, however it does recognize same-sex domestic partnerships and out-of-state gay marriages are recognized under the domestic partnership registry.
Tribe member Heather Purser, 28, had been trying for years to have the tribe establish same-sex marriage recognition, and after a series of requests and public hearings, Purser got her wish.
“When I came out I felt even more isolated from the world, and decided if I could get my people to support me and allow gay marriage, maybe the hurt would go away,” Purser said.
For months, she said, she went to Suquamish tribal meetings and asked that gay marriage become part of the tribal constitution.
When Purser moved to Seattle, she said, “I met someone incredible.”
So in March, she went to a tribal meeting and reiterated she wanted gay marriage legalized. Urged by her family members, she asked it be voted on then. The vote by tribal members at the meeting was unanimous, she said.
By amending the tribe’s constitution, the Suquamish tribe has allowed for the same rights and responsibilities it grants heterosexual couples to be granted to same-sex couples. The tribe is, however, still under the thumb of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe has said that this change was a basic matter of fairness, ”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,” “This lined up with our values as a tribe. We don’t discriminate.”
The Suquamish tribe has around 1,045 members, with approximately half of them living in Kitsap County or at the Port Madison Indian Reservation.