By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
On Halloween evening, in Fort Reno, Oklahoma, two men, Darren Black Bear and Jason Pickel, were wed among invited friends, family and members of the media.
An unlikely scenario in the state of Oklahoma, which has banned same sex marriage, the pair became the third homosexual couple to wed as allowed by Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal law.
In the Cheyenne and Arapaho constitution there is no discrimination based on sexual orientation and marriage laws do not specify gender.
The wedding took place at the Fort Reno Post Chapel, located just west of El Reno.
Originally the couple planned to marry in Watonga but there was resistance from some tribal members. A source wishing to remain anonymous quickly stepped in to retain the Fort Reno Chapel for the couple.
Darren referred to the venue change as a “blessing in disguise.”
“The chapel was what we really wanted because of the history involved, but we couldn’t afford it,” Jason said. “Then people banded together to get us this location. We would like to see the President release the files on this property that have been sealed for 50 years, then give the land back to my husband and his people.”
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, Fort Reno began as a military post established in 1874 to protect the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes during the Indian Wars Era.
Jason, 36, a funeral science program student at UCO, and Darren, 48, a floral supervisor are now Jason and Darren Black Bear. The couple was attired in black long sleeved shirts, pink ties and khaki pants.
Darren’s father, Floyd Black Bear, a Methodist minister, officiated the ceremony.
He’s my son,” said Rev. Black Bear. “I’ve raised him from when he was born and I respect his choice. Our constitution allows for same sex marriage and we can’t discriminate against gender, race or sexual orientation. Native Americans are exercising their right to make that decision.”
The couple’s honor attendants were Jason’s best friend from high school, Angelica Watkins and for Darren, Megan Hursh, who designed the couple’s wedding invitation. The ring bearer was Chris Watkins.
Darren noted with a smile, “our best men are women.”
Amber Bighorse, lieutenant governor of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, said,” I think this marriage reflects what I believe to be the mindset of the Cheyenne- Arapaho people, which is that we’re all equal, and as Rev. Black Bear was saying, we’re all God’s people.”
“In the Cheyenne and Arapaho community, I’ve never known anyone who’s had to come out of the closet, because nobody’s ever been put there in the first place.”
“If we’re going to start talking about voting on the issue then we need to amend the constitution first,” Bighorse said. “There is no justification for any kind of laws that ban marriage between gay couples without that being contrary to the bill of rights that we voted on just seven years ago. The LGBT community was specifically and expressly protected in our bill of rights.”
Steve Allen, owner of Billy Sims Barbeque franchise in Lawton, donated the reception dinner. “The dinner wouldn’t be possible without Steve and his wonderful gift to us,” Darren said.
The wedding cake was donated by Sweet Cherry’s Bakery in Oklahoma City.
“We weren’t prepared for what happened, but we quickly got it together to deal with all the press. Luckily, it’s all been good,” Darren said. “We simply wanted to get married so we could file federal taxes together and so I could put Jason on my insurance at work. It’s been a blessing to have so many people step up for us.”
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. Supreme 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.”
The couple has been together for over nine years.
“I’d say it was love at first sight,” Darren said. “He was so interested in talking to me and we just flirted and spoke to one another all night. A few days later, we were dating and then I moved in with him.”
On September 5, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin ordered the National Guard to stop processing requests for military benefits for same-sex couples, despite a Pentagon directive to do so.
According to Gov. Fallin’s spokesman, Alex Weintz, “same-sex couples who have been legally married in other states will be advised they can apply for benefits on federal facilities, such as Tinker Air Force Base, rather than state run facilities.”
Many same sex couples are traveling to states where they can now legally be married. Places such as Santa Fe, New Mexico have been issuing more marriage licenses since the June Supreme Court decision to overturn DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act).
Oklahoma City residents Dorothy Alexander and Devey Napier, after 18 years together, went to Santa Fe for their wedding.
“For us, this represents not only a public acknowledgment of our love for each other, but a vindication of our rights as citizens. We are extremely grateful to the people who govern Santa Fe County. They treated us with courtesy, respect and dignity just as they would any non-gay couple getting married. Our only regret is that such respect is denied us in our home state of Oklahoma.”
Darren says that the couple plans on taking a few days off to be together after the wedding ceremony.
“My advice to other gay couples is just to continue to have hope and to travel to other states to be married and enjoy their federal benefits afforded to us by our government,” Darren said. “I wish that they could be married here in their home state but until the laws change, I just wish them happiness and that they too will successfully wed and marry the love of their life. One day we will all be treated as equals”
Bighorse added, “Gay rights has been an issue at the forefront of national politics for a number of years, so we knew what we were doing.”