Harbor Springs Tribe Takes Step Toward Same-Sex Marriage

Mar 6, 2013

An Indian tribe in Harbor Springs could become the third tribe in the nation to recognize gay marriage. The governing council of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians approved the proposal this week.

Even though Michigan's constitution bans same-sex marriage, native tribes have their own sovereign authority. 

Annette VanDeCar says tribal leaders are recognizing a long native tradition of honoring "two spirit people."

“Two spirit is just a term that is given to individuals who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, or transgender,” she says. “You know all throughout of history, there have been people who are part of our tribe."

Not everyone in the Odawa community agrees. Public meetings on the issue were contentious last spring, with some members arguing gay marriage goes against native traditions. Legislative Leader Mel Kiogima, who voted against the change, says he thinks the majority of the tribe’s members would not support same-sex marriage.

“However, tribal council, by our constitution, are the ones who pass legislation. It is not something that we can turn around and send it to the people for a referendum. So it was something that, at this point, we had to vote on as a council,” he says.

The council reversed course in this vote. Last year councilors voted against a same-sex marriage proposal. It was a close vote, four to five. Since then the measure was re-written to clearly apply only when at least one person in the marriage is a member of the tribe.

“The changes were made to the statute we had considered last spring, which swung the vote of one of the councilors. So, consequentially, it passed this time, five to four,” Kiogima says. 

The marriage statute goes into effect in 30 days unless vetoed by the tribal chairman. Dexter McNamera has not said what he will do.