Cherokee Nation court dismisses lawsuit against same-sex marriage


Wednesday, August 3rd 2005, 1:25 pm
By: News On 6


TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) -- A tribal court has dismissed a lawsuit that held up a lesbian couple's effort to have their marriage recognized by the Cherokee Nation.

In a ruling filed Wednesday, the tribe's Judicial Appeals Tribunal said that Todd Hembree, the tribe member and attorney whose lawsuit blocked the filing of a marriage certificate issued by the tribe to Dawn McKinley and Kathy Reynolds, had no standing to sue and suffered no harm by the women's attempt to be recognized as a married couple.

The women haven't decided whether they will try to refile the certificate in order to have their union officially certified by the Cherokee Nation. Because of tribal sovereignty, Cherokee Nation marriage certificates are recognized just like Oklahoma marriage licenses.

"We're excited, we're happy," Kathy Reynolds said Wednesday. "We're determining what our next step is going to be."

The Owasso couple, who are both members of the tribe, exchanged vows in Cherokee in May 2004 after the tribe gave them the certificate without protest. But Hembree's lawsuit brought the injunction that kept it from being filed.

Hembree, who serves as counsel to the tribe's legislative body, believes that tribal law at the time clearly prohibited same-sex marriage. He said he had standing to bring the lawsuit as a private tribal citizen because all tribal members are harmed when laws are violated.

He said the court's decision ends the case for him.

"That is a decision by the highest court in our land," Hembree said. "There's now no legal prohibition to having their marriage certificate recognized."

Lena Ayoub, an attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights who has been representing the women, said they still want the Cherokee Nation to recognize their marriage but also value their privacy and are considering how to proceed.

After the couple wed last year, the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council unanimously approved language that defined a union as between one man and one woman.

McKinley, 33, and Reynolds, 28, have said they weren't trying to make a political statement by seeking recognition of their marriage and that they found the attention to their effort stressful.

Last year, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to recognize same-sex marriages. Other states, including Oklahoma, banned such unions.

The Cherokee Nation is not the only American Indian tribe to take up the issue. In June, the Navajo Nation's tribal government voted to override its president's veto of a measure banning same-sex marriage on the nation's largest American Indian reservation.

McKinley previously said the couple opted to go to the tribe because it "was the only way we walk into a courthouse anywhere in Oklahoma and they're not just going to laugh at us."