Image via Facebook
So the state of Oklahoma won’t let gays get married? Pfft. Technicality.
On October 10, 2013, Jason Pickel and Darren Black Bear were issued a marriage license by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe’s courthouse. Both Jason and Darren have Native American heritage, one of their tribal court’s requirements. Additionally, the couple must live within the jurisdiction of the issuing tribe. Even though the tribe’s courthouse is located on Oklahoma land, because of its status as a sovereign territory, it isn’t subject to state law.
Many of the media outlets covering Darren and Jason’s story are making it sound as if the couple of nearly a decade set out to put one over on the Sooner State, reducing the legality of their union to a “loophole.” They didn’t. They just wanted to get married. Imagine that.
A spokesperson for Mary Fallin, the state’s Republican governor, was quick to clarify that Pickel and Black Bear will continue to be treated as any other homosexual couple married out of state. In an email to the LA Times
, she wrote, “They are not recognized by the state of Oklahoma.”
In 2004, a whopping 76 percent
of Oklahoma citizens voted to define marriage as between one man and one woman. The Cheyenne Arapaho Tribe’s definition of marriage, however, doesn’t specify gender requirements. The council doesn’t award marriage certificates to males and females, but to “Indians.”
So what does this mean for gay people in Oklahoma? Well, it doesn’t mean too much unless you happen to be engaged to a Native American whose tribe administers same-sex marriage licenses. The Black Bears’ situation (Jason plans on taking Darren’s last name) is the latest reminder to all of our DOMA-minded friends that the movement for marriage equality is not going anywhere. Right now, it might be relegated to certain states and Native American tribes, but it’s coming.
VICE: So you guys found the loophole in Oklahoma, huh?
Jason Pickel: No! I keep telling reporters to stop saying loophole. We didn’t find a loophole in Oklahoma. Technically, we’re not even getting married in the state of Oklahoma. I think, in general, a lot of Americans don’t understand the concept of a sovereign nation. It’s not a state; it’s a territory. [The reservation]’s just like DC: it’s not part of Virginia; it’s its own place.
Darren Black Bear: We were getting married so I could get Jason on my insurance. That’s what this began as. It morphed and grew, and turned into a wedding. It went from the Gayly to our tribal paper, then to KOCO-5, then to… the world. It’s crazy how it grew.
Has anything like this happened before?
Jason: Actually we’re the third Native American couple [from the tribe] to be issued a same-sex marriage license. They just didn’t really want to be public and that’s fine. I met them for the first time yesterday.
Will your marriage only be recognized in your tribal area?
Jason: Within the state of Oklahoma, yes, it would only be recognized within the Cheyenne nation. Now, Oklahoma will recognize the court order to change my last name because it’s a federal court, and obviously they would have to abide by any court order. Other than that, our marriage will only be recognized in other states that recognize gay marriage.
Do other tribes allow same-sex marriage?
Jason: I’m not really sure. I mean, I can only speak for our tribe. But, you know, I didn’t set out thinking we would get married in any Indian nation. We were just wanting to get married, and we set out to get married. We were actually denied at first by the Cheyenne Arapaho tribe before DOMA was struck down.
In general, is your tribe supportive of gay people?
Jason: Do a Google search for gay Native Americans in history. The first thing that will pop up will be two spirit people. Second or third one down talks about homosexual men, and how it was totally fine. They believed homosexuals were closer to the spirits and the spirit realm.
Darren: It’s really been overwhelming, the support I receive from people. I work in customer service, I’m a full supervisor at my job, and in the afternoons I’m on the cash register. So a lot of my regular customers come in, and they’re all, “I saw you on TV!” And a couple of women, I’d come around the register and give them a hug. I haven’t met anyone with anything negative to say. If they have something negative to say, I think they know to stay away. I’m not gonna subject myself to it. You know how people can get it.
What about your families?
Jason: Everybody is super supportive. There’s no, like, “Oh, Darren’s gay …” Nobody comes up to him. It’s just not in their culture to even think it’s wrong or anything like that. His dad and all his uncles, they’ve been to the Sundance ceremony, they are all respected leaders in their tribe. They’re like some of the highest leaders in the tribe. His family is nothing but love. True love for everybody. Unless you cross one of them. Then you just picked on a lot of people.
Darren’s father is performing the ceremony?
Jason: Darren’s father is so supportive. He marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. and did a lot of civil rights work. He went to his funeral. He still keeps in contact with the King children. His father’s an amazing person. You could do ten stories just on him! He believes in equality for everyone. Here he is in his mid-70s. We thought we would be the first same-sex wedding he performed, but he performed a lesbian wedding three days ago.
Darren: It warms my heart to know that my dad did that. We were gonna be his first [same-sex couple]. It’s not really a race, though. That lesbian couple called him, and he told me, “I guess I’m in business.” And I said, “Yeah, I guess you’re in business, Dad. You always fought for equality, so I think it’s fitting.”
Which denomination does he belong to?
Darren: He’s a Methodist minister. He marries people as a man of the cloth. He has the power from the church so he can perform marriages and baptism. Unfortunately my father started receiving hateful, hateful phone calls. He told me not to worry about him, though. He can handle it. He keeps a log of all the people calling him and telling him he’s gonna go to hell.
When’s the wedding?
Jason: Wednesday. We were discussing the fact that we need to get married because it’s time for open enrollment, and they have insurance at his job. And I said, “Well we need to get married by the end of the year.” I looked down at the calendar, and I thought the 31st was a Friday. Turns out it’s a Thursday, and I totally didn’t put two and two together that we were having a Halloween wedding.
Where’s the ceremony going to be?
Jason: Well, we’re keeping it secret. I haven’t had any direct threats from the Westboro Baptist Church, but I got thinking, Mrs. Phelps, she and I have gotten into fights before, and I don’t want her near me. We have a place that’s very secure and we invited security. And it’s gonna be fabulous.
Any Native American wedding rituals?
Jason: The last Native American wedding we went to, they were dressed in normal wedding attire. She wore the dress of her dreams, and the guy had on a tux. There were bridesmaids in tacky dresses, and the groomsmen had hangovers. Just like anyone else in any other race, any other culture. I mean, we’re hoping to have a drum circle, but the weather is supposed to be inclement that day, so we’re not sure.
Darren: Oh, I’m not that deeply in touch with my heritage. Sad to say, but I wasn’t raised up that way by my parents. They wanted me to figure out who I was. We really weren’t those kind of people that went to powwows and the dances all the time. I mean, we did for a while. But I’m very influenced by popular culture. Not that deep into my heritage. I know people wanna hear that I’m in touch with my heritage, but that is not me. I don’t dance, I don’t sing. I don’t know what else to tell you.
What are you most looking forward to about your wedding day?
Jason: I’m looking forward to the whole event. Ya know, as far as my family is concerned, Darren’s been a member of my family ever since day one. I’ve been a part of his family, that’s the way it’s been.
Darren: As far as a couple, I mean, we’ve seen each other through some of the worst times, and some of best times. Ya know, we’ve been together – December 19th will 9 years. In gay years, that’s like 50. So we’re already married forever. Now we just qualify for tax credits and federal benefits
How do you feel about all the attention you’ve been receiving?
Jason: I work and go to school and come home, and so I don’t even see the messages from people. Darren’s friend said to do a GoFundMe. We did it mainly because we have a lot of out-of-state relatives who don’t know what kind of furniture I have, but the people giving money are strangers we haven’t met. It’s just like, Wow. I mean, Al Jazeera called us, and a film crew from Canada is coming to document our wedding.
Darren: It’s nice to think that people have been saying [supportive things] to me on Facebook. I didn’t set out thinking that the world was watching. I really wasn’t thinking that.
What do you hope your situation helps accomplish?
Jason: Well, I’m hoping that Native American children here will look at us and know that it’s OK to be who you are within your own tribe. Also to let people know it’s OK to be who you are no matter where you’re at, and if you love someone you can be together and find a way to be married. I really hope to have national equality. I would like to see equality throughout the world, but I’ll start with America. If we can get equality in America, I’ll go after Russia next—but we gotta start at home.
Well, it was great to talk with you today. Congratulations on your marriage!
Jason: Thank you!
For more news on same-sex marriage: