Odawa Indians Perform First Michigan Same-Sex Marriage

By Crystal A. Proxmire and wire reports

After thirty years as a couple, Tim LaCroix, 53, of Boyne City, and his partner Gene Barfield, 60, originally of Long Island, New York became the first same-gender couple to marry in Michigan thanks to new recognition of same-sex marriage by the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.

The two met when they were both serving in the Navy and are military veterans. Under the new Odawa statue, at least one partner must be a member of the tribe. LaCroix is a citizen of the LTBB, a federally recognized Native American tribe.

The Petoskey News first reported that on March 3 the tribe voted 5-4 to allow same-gender marriages. Native American tribes are sovereign states and may govern themselves independently of Michigan and U.S. government. They are the third native nation to allow gay marriage, joining the Coquille Tribe of Oregon (2009) and Suquamish Tribe in Washington (2011).

"Nationwide and statewide, same-sex (marriage) seems to be becoming a more important issue everyday," said Odawa Tribal Chairman McNamara to the Petoskey News, before signing the new marriage statute. "I think real soon we are going to see a real change in the laws that are being passed."

LaCroix and Barfield were married the same morning that the tribal chairman signed the legislation into law. On a cold, sunny morning, both men wore casual open-necked shirts and white sweaters with flowers attached for the ceremony.

"After reciting pledges to each other, they were presented with a slender maple limb bent into a hoop that represents the four stages of life. Using ribbon of different colors, they knotted sacred plants -- tobacco, cedar, sage and sweetgrass -- to the wood," according to wire reports.

The couple lives in Boyne City on a 30-acre farm that has been in LaCroix's family for generations. LaCroix told CNN, "We didn't want to go to another state to get married. We always wanted to have the wedding here in the state of Michigan. It's our home."

The relationship is still not recognized by the State of Michigan due to the 2004 Constitutional amendment that prohibits recognition of same-gender couples for any purpose.

"The Michigan Constitution defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Same-sex marriages performed in other states, countries, or in sovereign tribal nations are not valid in the state of Michigan," said Joy Yearout, spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Michigan ACLU Attorney Jay Kaplan reflected on the news noting it shows the great progress and momentum that is happening with marriage equality. "Of course the tribe has its own jurisdiction and like other marriages between same sex couples in other states, Michigan will not recognize this marriage, nor will the federal government currently under DOMA. However, the symbolism of this development and the tribe treating same-sex couples with dignity and fairness cannot be overlooked," said Kaplan.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) absolves the state of having to recognize same-gender marriages performed in other states or countries, which includes those in native sovereignties. The legality of DOMA will be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court next week.

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