Two Largest Native American Tribes In U.S. Ban Gay Marriage

Apr 07, 2015 at 2:07 PM ET

As states across the country pass laws allowing same-sex marriages, the nation’s two largest Native American tribes — as well as a handful of smaller tribes — have laws on the books banning it.

A report by the Associated Press found that the Navajo and the Cherokee have reaffirmed or strengthened their decades-old tribal laws banning gay marriage in recent years. Those two tribes have a collective 600,000 members. The Navajo are clustered in the Southwest, where Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico come together. The Cherokee mostly live in Oklahoma. Another 10 smaller tribes that together have another 350,000 members also now have laws specifically prohibiting gay marriage.

Because they reside on sovereign land, these tribes will still be able to ban same-sex marriage even if the U.S. Supreme Court decides that to do so is unconstitutional when it rules on a landmark same-sex marriage case later this year.

There are, however, 22 smaller tribes that specifically permit same-sex marriages, the majority of which had laws dating back to the 1950s stating that marriage guidelines would follow state laws in their respective states. When the states in which they reside moved to allow same-sex marriages, those tribes’ marriage laws simply followed suit. Of the nation’s 10 largest Native American tribes, only the Blackfoot Tribe — with 23,583 members, according to the 2010 U.S. Census — specifically allows same-sex marriage. Those 22 tribes are sprinkled around the U.S.

An additional 77 tribes currently have no laws stating whether they will recognize same-sex marriages.

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