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Cheyenne and Arapaho couple finds shortcut to same sex marriage in Oklahoma

Jason Pickel (left) and Darren Black Bear were married in Oklahoma under Cheyenne Arapaho Tribal law on October 18. Photo courtesy of Darren Black Bear
Jason Pickel (left) and Darren Black Bear were married in Oklahoma under Cheyenne Arapaho Tribal law on October 18. Photo courtesy of Darren Black Bear

By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter

CONCHO, Oklahoma – Friday morning (October 25), a crowd of about 40 people gathered at the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Cultural Center to discuss the recent marriage of Darren Black Bear and Jason Pickel.

The same sex marriage in Oklahoma, a state banning such unions, has drawn widespread media attention. Although the Cheyenne & Arapaho (C&A) laws allow same sex marriages, C&A Chief of Staff Ida Hoffman called the meeting to state her opposition to the recent same sex union.

“On a personal note, I believe in God and do not believe that same sex marriage is a biblical teaching,” Hoffman said.

At the Concho meeting, C&A Legislative Clerk, Ramona Tall Bear read a statement from Amber Bighorse, an attorney and ranking tribal officer as C&A lieutenant governor. It read in part, “I do not believe in discriminating against others based on our differences as humans, whether those differences are physical, religious, or, with respect to the conversation today, based on sexual orientation. I think that if we, as a community, start contemplating the legitimacy of gay marriages, it would be a step backward.”

After being together for eight years, the couple had discussed traveling to Iowa to get married. Instead, they obtained a marriage license at the tribe’s courthouse for $20. Pickel, 36, and Black Bear, 45 were wed on October 18.

Darren’s father, Floyd Black Bear, a former tribal council member, will officiate at a celebration wedding ceremony planned for October 31.

Pickel told The City Sentinel that they are one of three same-sex couples to be issued a marriage license by the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes.

Under C&A law, there are two requirements to get married — one applicant must be Native American and she or he must live within the tribal jurisdiction. The law does not mention gender.

After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last June, the two men wanted to be able to receive federal benefits available under the ruling.

“We have been contacted by everyone from Al Jazeera, NPR, NBC, ABC, Huffington Post, newspapers that I’ve never heard of and networks from around the world, “ Pickel said. “Everything has been positive and they’re happy for the tribe and for us. TIME magazine even wants to do a story on the tribe and on our wedding.”

Pickel says he has spoken to LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual) marriage rights organizations and attorneys to discuss issues such as estate planning.

“We put our wedding invitation in the paper so that people who we didn’t have address for and friends and family would know to come,” Pickel said. “We just wanted to have a celebration.”

The couple has planned their wedding celebreation for next week at the Watonga Multipurpose Center, from 6-8 p.m. Hoffman suggested they should have a B plan.

A passionate and emotional Frances Wise asked, “You can’t hate a person because they were born that way. They made a personal choice to get married just like everybody else, and they found a loophole to do it.”

“When we find a way to be like everybody else, we let it be known because we’ve been bashed for so long,” a tearful Wise said. “I’m proud to say I’m a part of that community.”

Hoffman said, “The Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribe(s) as a whole should decide this issue because this is our government. I do not hate any of you, but I have values too. You guys are making a stand, I’m making a stand too.”

Jimmy Gonzalez, President and Founder, National Coalition for Marriage Equality said, “We stand ready to do what we can, and not give in to unfair treatment to any of America’s citizens.”

“We had spoken to Darren’s father, who has served on public council in the past at the time when this code was put into place,” Pickel said. “He was the one who encouraged us to come here because there was no inequality.”

Several other members of the audience spoke up on behalf on the couple stating their support, including one mother who said she is proud of her gay son.

“The story went viral,” said one female participant. “And I am thoroughly on board to putting it to a vote of the people.” Another tribal member in the crowd said, “Gay people have always been accepted. We treat them with respect.”

Pickel said, “We were simply looking to get married and have federal benefits and to not have to drive to Iowa. We wanted to be able to get married here where Darren grew up, where his family is and who loves and has supported the tribe.”

The underlying law on marriage has been on the books of the C&A Tribes of Oklahoma for 25 years. The recent court ruling reflects a kind of federalism on which then-U.S. Supeme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor commented in 1997:

“Today in the United States, we have three types of sovereign entities – federal government, the States and the Indian tribes. Each of the three sovereigns has its own judicial system, and each plays an important role in the administration of justice in this country.”

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