CONCHO — Although Oklahomans changed the constitution to ban same-sex marriages, gay couples are finding a way to tie the knot with the assistance of tribal officials.
Jason Pickel and Darren Black Bear are getting married on Halloween in Watonga. They got their marriage license Friday from the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Concho.
Clayton Prairie Chief Jr. and Robert Hiram Eastwood were married Dec. 12, two days after the tribes gave them a marriage license, tribal spokeswoman Lisa Lieb said.
Black Bear, 45, who is originally from Watonga, said that it's hard to believe he will be married in a little more than a week in his home state.
“In all honesty, I never really fathomed the idea that it would come to fruition,” he said. “Jason just went on a whim ... he called the tribe in Concho and found out we wouldn't even be the first to be married.”
Many prominent Oklahoma tribes, including the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, do not allow gay marriage and will not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It is not clear at this time whether other Oklahoma Indian tribes issue licenses to same-sex couples.
Pickel and Black Bear are hoping their marital status will help them take advantage of federal tax credits and workplace health care benefits.
“I've been trying to get Jason on my (workplace) insurance ... so that's part of the reason why we were looking to get married,” Black Bear said. “He hasn't had insurance for a long time.”
In recent years, Black Bear said he and his fiance had considered traveling to Iowa and California to get married. Now, they will be able to do so in Oklahoma, a place both men enjoy.
Black Bear's father, a minister, will officiate the wedding.
“We've been together almost nine years ... and we've been thinking about this for a while,” Black Bear said. “It's been surreal.”
Lieb said the tribe will issue a marriage license to anybody who lives within the tribes' jurisdiction and is of American Indian descent.
AG's office has no comment
The impact of the gay marriages — and how the unions will be viewed under Oklahoma law — is not clear.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples will receive equal treatment from the federal government, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. The act had denied federal benefits to gay couples, specifically those married under state laws.
In 2004, Oklahomans voted overwhelmingly to ban gay marriage. The state's constitution now expressly prohibits same-sex marriages.
Diane Clay, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma attorney general's office, said the agency would not comment about the marriages at this time.
Paula Ross, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Tax Commission, said gay couples can't file as “married” in Oklahoma, regardless of the change in federal law.
“Since Oklahoma doesn't recognize same-sex marriages ... the Tax Commission is not accepting same-sex couples' tax returns,” Ross said. “Our constitution says it's a man and a woman.”