TULSA, Okla. (KTUL) — A groundbreaking decision Friday in Cherokee Nation. The tribe’s attorney general, Todd Hembree, says the tribe will now recognize same-sex marriage. Friday’s decision nullifies the Cherokee Nation and Family Protection Act, passed in 2004.
The question Hembree received was actually from the Cherokee Tax Commission in regards to a recently married woman trying to obtain a Cherokee Nation ID card. She was recently married to another woman. There was a question as to whether the Commission could recognize a same-sex marriage. Hembree said ‘Yes’.
“It’s not only exciting,” says Casdyn Clark, who says he is descended from Cherokee heritage. “Exciting is just the tip of the iceberg.”
The iceberg has stood in the way of same-sex couples in Cherokee Nation for decades.
“The fact that they would voluntarily do this is a really great thing,” says Ryan Payne, who is both a U.S. citizen and Cherokee Nation citizen. “It speaks to the progression of the tribe and the nation as a whole.”
Payne couldn’t agree to talk to us fast enough when he learned about the Cherokee decision.
“For someone like myself who is both a Cherokee citizen and a U.S. citizen,” Payne says. “To be able to have that recognized on both levels, you really do have that full sense of equality.”
“It’s like breaking chains,” Clark says. “You feel really free. I’m able to be me. You don’t have to live under society’s stereotypes anymore.”
Payne and Clark see the change as a monumental step for the L.G.T.B.Q. community.
“It’s going to be a welcome signal from their tribe that they are equal,” Payne says. “They do have value. They do belong.”
He believes that welcome signal will bring people home to Cherokee Nation to embrace their heritage, and having their tribe embrace them back.
“It shows a huge amount of progress,” Payne say. “Because of this, it’s going to allow other things that may have been on the back burner to be considered.”
“Knowing that I can walk in and not be afraid to be me,” Clark says. “It makes me excited to do so.”
Hembree’s decision takes effect immediately and is considered legally binding. It can be challenged at any time by Cherokee officials, but the attorney general says he doesn’t see any reason for that to happen.