HARBOR SPRINGS, MI - With an exchange of rings and a kiss, two men became spouses Friday during a ceremony at a northern Michigan Indian reservation after the tribal chairman signed a measure approving same-sex marriage in a state where it's officially banned.
Tim LaCroix, 53, a member of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, wed longtime partner Gene Barfield, 60, during a ceremony that blended familiar vows with native symbolism including drumming and the burning of pungent sage. The men joyfully embraced as Tribal Chairman Dexter McNamara pronounced them married.
"I'm the happiest, luckiest guy in the world," Barfield said.
The men, who live in Boyne City, acknowledged the state of Michigan does not recognize their union but said they hoped the tribe's approval would be one more step toward acceptance across the U.S Federally recognized Native American tribes are self-governing and not bound by the state law.
Same-sex marriage is prohibited under an amendment to the state Constitution approved by voters in 2004. Attorney General Bill Schuette agrees with an opinion issued by his predecessor, Mike Cox, that Michigan law does not regard gay marriages performed in other states as valid, according to spokeswoman Joy Yearout.
The federal Defense of Marriage Act lets states refuse to recognize gay marriages in states that allow them, although the law is being challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court. The outcome of that case could affect a pending suit in Detroit that contends Michigan's ban violates the U.S. Constitution.
Either way, the tribe's new policy is likely to result in an eventual legal showdown with the state, said Richard Monette, a professor and federal Indian law specialist at the University of Wisconsin. Gay couples married under tribal jurisdiction may adopt children, get divorced or be required to pay child support. If they move off the reservation and try to have tribal court orders enforced in state courts, "it could be ... a bit of chaos," he said.
At least two other U.S. Indian tribes recognize gay marriage. The Coquille Tribe in North Bend, Ore., began recognizing the unions in 2009, and the Suquamish Tribe in Suquamish, Wash., did so in 2011.
The Little Traverse Bay Bands council rejected the gay marriage proposal on a 5-4 vote last summer, but approved it by the same margin this month after adding a provision requiring that at least one member of the couple be a tribal citizen.