There were no protests and not much politics when the Suquamish Tribe quietly confronted one of the most tender social issues of the day.
This spring, a young woman stood up at the tribe’s annual meeting on its reservation here on Puget Sound and asked it to formally approve same-sex marriage. The response from the 300 or so people present was an enthusiastic “yes” in a voice vote. There was no audible dissent. Then, after another, smaller meeting (still no opposition) and a little work by the tribal attorney, the tribal council voted unanimously this month to approve same-sex marriage.
No court fights. No ballot measures. No billionaires behind the scenes.
“It was an important statement, but it wasn’t one that was a real struggle to make,” said Leonard Forsman, chairman of the tribe. “We really saw this as a housekeeping issue.”
No same-sex couple has expressed interest in getting married on the reservation soon. Nor is it clear that there would be a practical impact if they did, in part because Washington State already has a domestic partnership law that extends most marriage benefits to same-sex couples.
Yet people involved in the process say the new law was an important act of self-determination. While its specific purpose is to affirm marriage rights for same-sex couples, supporters say the law also is an effort to assert tribal culture and authority over outside influences by people whose very identities have been under assault for more than two centuries, since non-Indian settlers began arriving in the Pacific Northwest.
“The reason for passing it had nothing to do with ‘What benefits do I get out of it?’ ” said Michelle Hansen, the tribal attorney. “You have this community saying, ‘Where we can avoid discrimination, we’re going to do it…’ ”
Experts note that some tribes, including the Navajo and the Cherokee, have passed laws opposing same-sex marriage, but the precise marriage policy of many tribes is not known because tribes do not always make their laws public.
Scholars noted that before tribes came into contact with Christian missionaries, homosexuality was not necessarily viewed negatively.
“It went from tolerated in some tribes to very highly regarded in others,” said Karina L. Walters, the director of the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute…
“It wasn’t thought of as homosexual, necessarily, it was thought of as another type of gender,” she said. “The whole idea behind it is tribes never excluded people.”
We’re obviously witnessing the failure of Christian missionaries to instill a proper belief in inequality and gender superiority…and other similar Anglo foolishness.