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Turning To Tribal Nations For Gay Marriage

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Jason Pickel is about to marry his male partner in Oklahoma, a state that bans same-sex marriage. Pickel and his partner are getting married through the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe. Host Scott Simon talks to Pickel about their decision.


Same sex marriage is illegal in the state of Oklahoma, but one couple has found a way around that. Darren Black Bear and Jason Pickel recently want to the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal court to get a marriage license. Native American tribes have the power to make their own laws, and this tribe's code does not specify that marriage is between a man and a woman, just that the couple need to be of Native American descent.

So with marriage license in hand, the couple will be married this coming week. Jason Pickel joins us now from Oklahoma City. Thanks very much for being with us.

JASON PICKEL: You're welcome.

SIMON: And what made you think of going to your tribe's court?

PICKEL: Well, actually it's my partner's tribe's court. His father is a civil rights activist and leader in the tribe and a well-respected elder in the community. He's the one who suggested that we go to the tribe to get our marriage license because he knew that the constitution of their tribe did not discriminate against same-sex marriage.

And we actually had planned a trip to Iowa to get married and decided that we would call the tribe and just double check to see if we could get married there, and they said of course we can.

SIMON: What kind of public reaction have you gotten, particular on the reservation area?

PICKEL: For the most part, I would say we have a very positive reaction, not only just from the local tribal members but also from just the world at large, it seems.

SIMON: What does marriage mean to you after being together for nine years and thinking that you had no legal option to be married? What does it mean to you to figure this out?

PICKEL: Well, even though our marriage will still not be recognized by the state of Oklahoma, what it means to us is just a way to publicly affirm our love for one another and show people, you know, the importance of marriage, you know. This is America, where we like to say that everyone' equal and the land of opportunity. I feel like we're going more accepted in the American culture and not just a second-class citizen. And just general, whenever we adopt a child, we want our child to have the same last name as us and just like any other family would.

SIMON: You plan to have children?

PICKEL: Actually, we're planning on adopting. We're looking to maybe adopt a couple of siblings. We'd really like to maybe have a little family where we're not splitting up siblings.

SIMON: Have you planned your wedding?

PICKEL: It's going to be quite the event. It's going to be at the Watauga Community Center. They're on the Cheyenne-Arapaho land. We're not doing tuxedos. We're going to be wearing, like, khaki pants, black shirts and pink ties, and the two bridesmaids, they're - I don't know the new terminology for that, but they're both going to be in pink dresses and there's going to be some fabulous food and a wonderful cake.

SIMON: You have a song they're going to play at your wedding, your song?

PICKEL: There's a song, "Mirrors" by Justin Timberlake. I believe that's going to be the song we're going to go down the aisle to.


JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: (Singing) Aren't you somethin' to admire? 'Cause your shine is somethin' like a mirror. And I can't help but notice you reflect in...

SIMON: Jason Pickel of Oklahoma and Darren Black Bear, they're going to get married next week on Halloween. Thank you very much for being with us.

PICKEL: You're welcome. Thank you for having us.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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