Two women, one of whom is Coquille, will be getting married next May with the Coquille Indian Tribe:
As a federally recognized sovereign nation, the tribe is not bound by the Oregon's Constitution. The tribe recently adopted a law that recognizes same-sex marriage and extends to gay and lesbian partners, at least one of whom must be a Coquille, all tribal benefits of marriage.
The Coquilles (which tribal leaders prefer to pronounce KO-kwell) are probably the first tribe in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage, says Brian Gilley, a University of Vermont anthropology professor and author of the book, "Becoming Two-Spirit: Gay Identity and Social Acceptance in Indian Country."
Many tribes have already adopted laws banning same-sex marriage. But this tribe hasn't and is going forward with this marriage. While the focus in the LGBTQ community might be on the fact that they're getting married, the question relating to tribal sovereignty is also interesting.
Congress has a long history of granting freedom and autonomy to native people and to tribal governments only to take it away and break treaties years later. Tribal governments have the ability to marry whom they please, but since they're part of the federal government, and since the federal government doesn't recognize same-sex marriage under DOMA, things could get murky:
The federal government could challenge the Coquille law as a way of testing the limits of tribal independence.
"This could be a test of sovereignty," he says.
The tribe concluded that the Defense of Marriage Act may bar the tribe from conferring federal benefits or money on same-sex spouses, said Melissa Cribbins, assistant tribal attorney.
The Brantings will be entitled to tribal marriage benefits:
While Jeni Branting, 27, is not a tribal member, she is entitled to tribal benefits as Kitzen's spouse, even though the couple plans to move off tribal land next week to Edmonds, Wash., near Seattle, where both grew up. Jeni Branting, for example, has applied for the Coquille health care plan. She also is entitled to housing and fitness benefits and access to tribal community events.
If this does get challenged, it'll be one of the most petty challenges to tribal sovereignty in recent years, arguing that some Americans' discomfort with homosexuality should prevent a tribe from deciding who's a tribal member and what a family, to them, looks like.
But I wouldn't put it past the US government to take such a stand.