Brides Look Forward to Marrying Under Tribal Same-Sex Marriage Law

A request from a bride-to-be has led an Oregon Indian tribe to legalize same-sex marriage, a move leaders say may be the first of its kind in the United States.

The Coquille Indian Tribe now not only recognizes legal same-sex unions from state and federal governments, but it will soon be handing out its own marriage licenses not only to heterosexual couples, but to homosexual couples as well.

Kitzen Branting is like a lot of other brides who have come before her: She has already found her wedding dress, set a date for the ceremony and proudly wears her engagement ring.

But her journey to the altar has been a bit different than most, since she requested new tribal legislation sanctioning same-sex marriage. Branting, 25, and her fiancee, Jeni Branting, plan to be married in May under the tribe's new law.

'Recognition and Respect'

The high school sweethearts have already gathered all the legal documents they are allowed -- wills, powers of attorney and domestic partnership registry -- but they wanted a legal ceremony from the tribe in which Kitzen Branting was raised.

"What I asked them was to be willing to recognize homosexual marriages," she said.

Before the tribe ruled on Kitzen Branting's request in May, the Coquilles did not have a policy defining marriage and did not perform ceremonies or hand out marriage licenses of any kind. Like most other American Indian tribes, the Coquilles have their own laws and customs.

"Native Americans, more than anyone, know about discrimination," Coquille Indian Tribe Chief Ken Tanner told "Our directive is to provide recognition and respect to all members of our tribe."

The clause about issuing marriage licenses, however, will not go into effect until the tribe passes legislation on divorce and child custody procedures, according to Coquille tribe attorney Brett Kenney.

But Kenney said he's optimistic that the tribe will be performing marriages before Kitzen and Jeni Branting are ready to walk down the aisle in May.

"I have a deadline now," Kenney said, laughing.

Tanner, 68, said the tribe's law was not intended to make a statement about gay marriage or advocate for similar legislation from any other tribe or governing body.

"We have no interest whatsoever in this being a national interest of any kind," he said.

Looking for Acceptance, Not a Fight

Kitzen and Jeni Branting -- Kitzen legally took Jeni's last name three years ago -- signed up for the domestic partnership registry in their home state of Washington, but Kitzen Branting said getting married under tribal law means more to her than state or federal recognition.

"They're my family and we're a pretty small tribe and I have a close connection to them," Branting said. She remembers summers spent at youth camps and performances of traditional Coquille dances. "They are my immediate people."

Once married, Jeni Branting, 27, who is not a Coquille, will have the same rights as any other tribal spouse, including health insurance and the right to attend tribal functions.

Kitzen Branting said she approached the tribal council several years ago, but the issue was pushed aside for more pressing matters until another tribe member brought it back to the council's attention about a year ago.

The tribe held workshops for members in which the discussion was open for comments on all marriages, though the focus was mostly on the same-sex variety, Branting said.

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