Tribes tread new ground in states without marriage equality laws

Richard Peterson, the president of the Tlingit and Haida Tribes in Alaska. Photo from Facebook

Nearly two dozen tribes have joined the marriage equality movement but some are located in states that haven't always recognize tribal laws.

The Tlingit and Haida Tribes in Alaska adopted their law in February but haven't yet issued any licenses to same-sex couples. But when the tribe's court issued a paternity order, the state refused to recognize it. The issue is now being heard by the Alaska Supreme Court.

"As a matter of comity, or legal reciprocity, you would think a state government should, in all fairness, recognize a marriage formed under tribal law," attorney Philip Baker-Shenk told Indian Country Today. "Unfortunately, many states have not followed the golden rule of comity when it comes to tribal law."

Even though Alaska has been ordered to recognize same-sex marriages performed in the state, the state does not have to recognize marriages performed in other jurisdictions under the federal Defense of Marriage Act. But that could change when the U.S. Supreme Court to issue decisions in a series of same-sex marriage cases by the end of this month.

The outcome won't necessarily apply to the actions of tribal governments but observers believe it could pressure them to address the issue.

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Tribal Marriages Might Trump Same-Sex Ban By States (Indian Country Today 6/24)

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