JAT sets hearing for gay marriage case

07/07/2005 09:57 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) - The Cherokee Nation’s Judicial Appeals Tribunal agreed in June to hear the case of a lesbian couple attempting to file a marriage certificate with the tribe.

The JAT issued an order June 3 stating it has jurisdiction over the case and set a date of Aug. 2 for the next hearing. It also set July 8 as the cut-off date for briefs to be filed in the case with responses to be filed no later than July 18.

Tribal citizens Dawn McKinley and Kathy Reynolds obtained a marriage license application from the tribe May 13, 2004. A Tulsa-area minister married the Owasso couple five days later, but the women were turned away when trying to file the license with the court because of a marriage application moratorium issued by the court.

Tribal Council attorney Todd Hembree filed a petition June 16, 2004, against the couple’s marriage claiming it didn’t follow Cherokee law and asked the court to consider the marriage certificate null and void.

Hembree said tribal statutes used gender-specific terms such as "husband" and "wife" to define marriage.

McKinley and Reynolds contend that those terms are not gender specific in Cherokee and that the terms used in a marriage ceremony are "cooker" for wife and "companion" for husband.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights, said she was pleased the court ruled to take jurisdiction over the case.

"This is just such an important issue," Minter said. "We’ll have to see how this comes out."

Because of tribal sovereignty, Cherokee marriage certificates are recognized by Oklahoma just like state-issued marriage licenses.

The JAT will hear arguments in August on Hembree’s standing in the case. If the tribunal determines that Hembree has standing, then the court will take up the merits of the case.

Since the issue emerged, tribal officials have said the tribe doesn’t support same-sex unions. The Tribal Council even went as far as unanimously approving language last year that defines a union as between one man and one woman.


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