OKLAHOMA CITY — In a conservative state referred to as the buckle of the Bible Belt, two men legally married Thursday in a small ceremony at a chapel on an old military fort west of Oklahoma City.
Despite a gay marriage ban in the Oklahoma Constitution, Darren Black Bear, 45, and Jason Pickel, 36, wed before about 50 friends and family members at the Fort Reno chapel after being granted a marriage license from the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. Black Bear is a member of the Oklahoma-based tribe, one of the few Native American tribes in the U.S. to allow same-sex marriage.
He and Pickel are the third same-sex couple to be issued a marriage license from the tribe since 2012.
Black Bear said he never imagined being able to marry his partner of nine years.
“It’s really kind of surreal,” Black Bear said. “I thought that was not something that would happen in my lifetime.”
Black Bear’s father, 71-year-old Floyd Black Bear, officiated the ceremony. A longtime civil rights activist who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 in Alabama, Floyd Black Bear said most of the tribal members he’s talked to support the move, although he acknowledged there is some opposition.
“We’ve got a lot of tribal members that are gay, along with other tribes in Oklahoma,” Floyd Black Bear said. “That’s a reality, and we can’t sit back and allow these people to be deprived of their rights.”
Article continues belowThe Cheyenne and Arapaho’s constitution, which was redrafted in 2006 and approved by a majority of voting tribal members, specifically prohibits the tribal government from making or enforcing any law that discriminates against any person based on sexual orientation.
The 12,500-member tribe’s lieutenant governor, Amber Bighorse, said the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes have a history of progressive leaders and acceptance of gay members.
“It’s not just that we have that provision in our constitution,” said Bighorse, 37. “That provision got in there for a reason.
“Culturally, from my experience and what I’ve witnessed in all of my years, the Cheyenne and Arapho is a community that has always been open and accepting of gay tribal members.”
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