When it comes to gay rights, Oklahoma is one of the most backward states in the union. Not only has the state had a ban on gay marriage written into its constitution since 2004 — an amendment that passed with 76 percent of the vote — it refuses to recognize same sex marriages that were licensed in states where gay marriage is legal.
Gay couples receive no family benefits in Oklahoma. It is a misdemeanor crime for a county clerk to go rogue and grant a marriage license to a gay couple. And even though the Supreme Court ruled that legally married gay couples must receive the same benefits as opposite-sex married couples, Oklahoma won’t grant them, even for members of the military.
So how did Jason Pickel (pictured, left) and his significant other of eight years, Darren Blackbear (pictured, right), somehow get married without leaving Oklahoma, and make it all completely legal? The pair recently became the first officially married gay couple in the state.
The two were planning to get married in Iowa, where same sex marriage is now legal, but after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in June, Pickel had an idea about how to keep the proceedings closer to home.
He picked up the phone and called the courthouse of the Arapahoe and Cheyenne tribe. He found out that getting married that way was remarkably easy. There were only three requirements. Both members of a couple must be of Native American descent. The couple must live within the tribe’s area of jurisdiction — and they had to fork over 20 bucks for a license.
There was nothing in the tribal code about who had to be which gender.
“I do know at the end of the day the state offices won’t recognize it,” Pickel told an Oklahoma City TV station. “But they kind of have to.”
State laws cannot be enforced on tribal lands. That makes Pickel and Blackbear’s marriage 100 percent legal and the couple is eligible for the same federal tax benefits opposite-sex couples may receive.
“When we have equality in all 50 states and all US territories,” said Pickel, “that is when we'll have true equality and that's when I will be truly, truly happy.”