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An American indigenous tribe in South Dakota has become the first one in the state to legalize same-sex marriage.
The Oglala Sioux made the announcement earlier this month to triumphant applause. The decision was made by the tribal council, which approved a same-gender marriage ordinance in a vote of 12 to 3 (with one abstention). The new ordinance amends martial and domestic law that has not changed on the Pine Ridge reservation since 1935, according to AP.
The U.S Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015 throughout the country. That said, indigenous tribes are separate from the federal government. They are given the right to govern themselves while still living within the borders of the United States. As such, the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case did not affect the 573 federally recognized tribes.
For Monique “Muffie” Mouseeau and Felipa De Leon, this news was upsetting. The two wanted to get married in 2015, but found out that they couldn’t get married at the reservation where they grew up. While they later received a license in Pennington County and wed at a group ceremony at Mount Rushmore, the two petitioned to make changes to the reservation’s law. This led to this month’s ordinance update.
“We are looking out for future generations, for protections and for equality,” Mousseau told the Rapid City Journal . “These foundations of laws have to be in place because we have grandkids. And that next generation coming up, we don’t want them experiencing the same (gay) bashing, we don’t want them to get to a point where somebody says a bad word to them because they like somebody of the same sex and they hang themselves. We don’t want that.”
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This isn’t the only legal battle that’s been focused on gay marriage in the American indigenous world. In 2016, the Cherokee Nation’s attorney general legalized gay marriage in the tribe. This then trickled down to several other tribes that were ruled under the Cherokee Nation’s laws. Then a separate battle was won in the Phoenix area in 2017 after it was ruled that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right under the constitution of the Ak-Chin community and the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.
Of course, gay marriage is legal anywhere else outside of the reservations and areas ruled by indigenous tribes. As such, couples like Mousseau and De Leon can get married off-reservation grounds, but they hope to create a future where younger couples won’t have to do so.
“We’re doing this for all the children, everybody’s grandchildren, everybody’s great-grandchildren. Not just ours. But all the whole next generation,” De Leon noted.