Two Men Were Married in Oklahoma, Where Gay Marriage is Constitutionally Forbidden

It has everything to do with tribal sovereignty.

By Aura Bogado Oct 22, 2013

Jason Pickel and Darren Blackbear had been together for more than eight years–and have wanted to get married for the past five. But they thought it would be impossible to do so in the state of Oklahoma. That’s because nearly 10 years ago, 76 percent of voters decided that Oklahoma’s constitution should be amended to read that marriage be strictly limited to "the union of one man and one woman." 

Because of tribal sovereignty, however, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes are not bound by state law, including state marriage and divorce laws. In an interview with KOCO-TV, Pickel says he recently called up the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes courthouse, and realized that he and Blackbear qualified for marriage because they fulfilled the tribes’ two marriage conditions: that both partners be an enrolled member of the federally recognized tribal nations, and that they both reside within tribal jurisdiction. Because gender has nothing to do with defining marriage, Pickel and Blackbear are now married.

The Cheyenne and Arapaho jurisdiction is pretty vast–covering a good portion of western Oklahoma. That means that any two people, regardless of gender, who are enrolled in one of nearly 600 federally recognized tribes and live in this part of Oklahoma can, indeed, be married. And Oklahoma’s constitution can’t do anything about it.