Coquille Tribe’s Gay Marriage Policy Challenged

Coquille Indian Tribe member is challenging a recent decision by the Tribal Council to allow domestic partnerships and marriages regardless of sexual orientation.

Tribal member Brady Metcalf said he believes the Marriage and Domestic Partnership Ordinance should be placed on a special tribal ballot, allowing the general council to weigh in on the topic. The general council includes every adult tribal member, of which there are about 580.

“I think it’s too big of an issue to be decided upon by six people who may or may not have their own agenda,” Metcalf said Monday.

According to Tribal Attorney Brett Kenney, the new Tribe’s policy has two objectives. First, it recognizes marriages and domestic partnerships formed in other jurisdictions, such as Tribes, states, countries and provinces, for the purposes of extending tribal spousal or domestic partner benefits.

Second, the law authorizes new marriages under tribal law between both homosexual and heterosexual couples, when at least one person is a tribal member. However, these marriages can’t be initiated until the Tribal Council adopts follow-up laws addressing divorce and child custody. Kenney said it will take at least another four to five months for these potential laws to be reviewed.

“That law has been passed … but those marriages will not begin until we can deal with the break up of those marriages under our legal system,” Kenney said.

He added that both portions of the ordinance recognize marriages and domestic partnerships regardless of the gender of the two people involved. However, there are some restrictions, such as the two parties can’t be first cousins or any closer kin, or be under the age of 18.

Kenney said the Tribal Council adopted the ordinance following more than six meetings and workshops and about a year after tribal members raised the question of the Tribe honoring same-sex relationships involving Tribal members. The ordinance passed in a 4-2 vote. Written and verbal testimony from the general council was taken through a 90-day comment period, starting Feb. 7. Notices regarding the potential ordinances were posted at locations on tribal property including the clinic, housing authority and tribal headquarters, Kenney said. A notice also appeared in the tribal newsletter.

A petition is presently circulating that would require authorization from Tribal members for he new law to go into effect. 200 signatures are needed to place the issue on a special ballot, and Mr. Metcalf reports having collected over 25% of that number so far.

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