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Siletz Tribe becomes latest to join marriage equality movement

Robert Kentta, council member for Siletz Tribe of Oregon. Still image from Willamette University / Vimeo

The Siletz Tribe of Oregon has become the latest to join the marriage equality movement in Indian Country.

The tribal council approved marriage and dissolution of marriage ordinances during its meeting on May 15. The law treats all couples the same, regardless of gender.

“The Siletz Tribe is committed as a government to serve its people well and treat all members with the respect, dignity and equal protections under tribal law that they deserve,” council member Robert Kentta said in a press release.

The tribe's general council -- consisting of all adult members -- held a non-binding advisory to determine interest in the matter. Nearly 67 percent responded in favor of marriage equality.

“When approached with the request for the Siletz Tribal Council to establish a Siletz Tribal Marriage Ordinance – and for it to be specifically inclusive of same-sex couples and treat all adult tribal members equally in this regard – it was a fairly simple process to get that ball rolling," Kentta said.

At least 22 other tribes recognize same-sex marriage, according to Wikipedia. Tribes in the Pacific Northwest -- Oregon and Washington -- were among the first to equality laws.

“The Siletz Tribe thanks our sister tribes that have previously taken such legislative action to protect their members and communities, and express their living cultures. We thank them for their leadership and courage to stand up for what is right,” said Kentta.

The tribe's move comes as the nation awaits for the U.S. Supreme Court to issue decisions in a series of same-sex marriage cases. The outcome won't necessarily apply to the actions of tribal governments but observers believe it could pressure them to address the issue.

The Navajo Nation and the Cherokee Nation, the two biggest tribes in terms of membership, outlaw same-sex marriages. So do several other large tribes, including the Seminole Nation, the Chickasaw Nation, the Muscogee Nation and the Osage Nation, all in Oklahoma.

The Osage Nation, however, might be changing its stance. A tribal lawmaker introduced a bill in April to recognize all marriages.

In June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a section in the Defense of Marriage Act that did not allow the federal government to recognize same-sex marriage. The justices did not rule on a different section that allows tribes and states to ignore marriages that may not be legal in their jurisdictions.

The rulings in the new cases are expected by the end of this month.

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