Another Big Win for Marriage Equality

December 10th 2016

Willie Burnley Jr.

On Friday, marriage equality took another step forward when Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree issued a 12-page opinion overturning a 2004 ban on same-sex marriage that applied to tribal citizens.

"The constitution affords these rights to all Cherokee citizens, regardless of sexual orientation and the Cherokee Nation, or any subdivision, must recognize validly issued civil unions, same-sex marriages, and same-sex domestic partnerships from other jurisdictions," he wrote in the opinion.

In his decision, Hembree noted that “prior to European contact” there were oral and eventually written histories that described centuries of ceremonies akin to same-sex marriage. He also argued that, prior to 2004, “Cherokee marriage laws were gender-neutral.”

The ban on the practice within the sovereign nation was instituted less than a month after a same-sex Cherokee couple were married. In June 2004, Hembree stated that "our (Cherokee Nation) law defines marriage as between a man and a woman," and the ban passed unanimously.

In returning the recognition of such unions, Hembree makes entering a union possible for the more than 300,000 tribal citizens of the Cherokee Nation.

The official affirmation comes a year the Supreme Court of the United States overturned a similar ban and allowed same-sex couples to marry for the first time.

The Cherokee Nation’s sovereignty will allow them to forge their own path in this matter, virtually regardless of what state or federal courts decide.