Published March 6, 2017
TAHLEQUAH — The Cherokee Nation Tribal Council may vote to put same-sex marriage on the ballot in the nation’s June election. The issue of same-sex marriage arose last December when Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree issued a legal opinion that declared tribal statutes that prohibit gay marriage to be unconstitutional.
His opinion went further in that it said the Cherokee Nation cannot refuse to issue a marriage license or recognize a marriage based on sexual orientation.
The idea that one person’s legal opinion did not sit well with some members of the Tribal Council. The issue was brought up at the February 22nd meeting of the Cherokee Nation’s Rules Committee
“We want our citizens to express their opinion on this rather than the executive branch expressing their opinion.” Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor, David Walkingstick said during last month’s Rules Committee meeting in regards to the tribe’s Attorney General, Todd Hembree’s opinion on same-sex marriage.
“When we have your [AG] office come in demand, or make an opinion, one way or another when it is none of our [government’s] business.” Walkingstick said. “Since it has been opened up for a discussion, it is our duty as a legislative body to put it to the vote of the people.”
“I’d be curious to know how many people have had constituents ask, ‘Can we vote on this?’’ Janees Taylor, Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor, asked during the committee’s discussion.
By a show of hands eight of the 16 councilors present raised their hands. Councilors Walkingstick, Taylor, Buel Anglen, Don Garvin, Jack Baker, Shawn Crittenden, Dick Lay, and Rules Committee chair, Joe Byrd responded with raised hands to Taylor’s question. Taylor and Byrd are up for re-election this summer on which the CN’s definition of marriage could potential share the ballot with them in June 3rd’s general election.
“This is the only way. This or going to court which is another option,” Assistant Attorney General, Chrissi Nimmo, said. “No one has challenged our opinion in court. One of the options instead of, or in addition to, voting on this is for someone to say, ‘AG office you’re wrong and I want the Supreme Court to say whether or not you correctly interpreted the constitution.’”
“We are not for or against it. We don’t want to take it to Cherokee Nation Supreme Court. We want the people to vote on it,” Walkingstick said. “This is a sensitive subject. People on both sides have said that we have no business diving into the personal business of their relationship. I agree with them.”
Presently, unless the United States Congress passes a law regarding same-sex marriage for federally recognized American Indian tribes, all tribes have the legal right to form their own marriage laws.
The decision of whether or not the constitutional referendum defining marriage will appear on June 3rd’s general election ballot must first be voted on by a favorable two-third council vote. The council will cast their votes at the next Rules Committee meeting on March 21, 2017, at 10 am at the Cherokee Nation Council Offices to make this determination.
In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision the Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
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