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Indian gay marriage law takes effect in Oregon

May 27, 2009

By Bill Graves
Religion News Service

A Coquille Indian Tribe law allowing same-sex marriage took effect this week, and two women married Sunday (May 24) on the tribe’s reservation in Coos Bay, Ore.  Kitzen Branting, 26, and her partner, Jeni Branting, 28, who now live in Edmonds, Wash., became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in Oregon, though their marriage will be recognized only by the tribe. Kitzen Branting is a member of the Coquille tribe.

Neither Washington nor Oregon has legalized same-sex marriage, but as a federally recognized sovereign nation, the tribe is not bound by the Oregon Constitution.

“My tribe recognizes the marriage, so that is really important to me,” said Kitzen Branting. “Anytime we come to a tribal function, I know my marriage is just as valid as anyone else’s marriage.”

The tribe adopted a law more than a year ago that recognizes same-sex marriage and extends to gay and lesbian partners — at least one of whom must be Coquille — all tribal benefits of marriage. The tribe wanted to work out laws governing child support issues before activating the law. It took effect Wednesday (May 20), said Melissa Cribbins, assistant tribal attorney.

Kitzen and Jeni Branting married in the tribe’s Coos Bay plankhouse, a 3-year-old meeting hall built in traditional Coquille style with cedar plank walls. No other couples have inquired about marrying yet, Cribbins said, “but I wouldn’t anticipate this will be the only marriage.”

Last year, Brian Gilley, a University of Vermont anthropologist, said the Coquille Tribe (which tribal leaders prefer to pronounce KO-Kwell) is probably the first tribe in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

  
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