The Cherokee Nation will now recognize same-sex marriages following a Friday opinion from the tribe’s attorney general.
Though the sovereign nation is not bound by the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage ruling, Cherokee Attorney General Todd Hembree said that the tribe’s constitution “protects the fundamental right to marry,” and that the tribe has a history of honoring same-sex unions.
Prior to Hembree’s ruling, which is legally-binding but could be challenged in court, a 2004 Cherokee law limited marriage to one man and one woman.
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“A lot of time has passed since then,” said Chrissi Nimmo, an assistant attorney general for the Cherokee Nation, told the Tulsa World. “And a lot of social changes have happened.”
Because the tribal court has declined to rule on the issue, and tax officials were asking how to handle same-sex marriages licenses issue by the state of Oklahoma, Hembree had to make an executive decisions.
Dawn McKinley and Kathy Reynolds, whose effort to obtain a Cherokee marriage license triggered the 2004 law banning same-sex marriage, said they were surprised by the ruling because Hembree had previously defended the tribe’s right to refuse the license as a lawyer for the tribe.
“We’re overwhelmed,” Dawn Reynolds-McKinley said. “We didn’t expect his opinion to go this way at all.”