A tribal court in Arizona has ruled that same-sex couples have a right to marry under the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 and the constitution of the Ak-Chin American Indian community.
Cleo Pablo, who was born and raised on the Ak-Chin reservation, filed the lawsuit two years ago after she married her partner of ten years, Tara Roy-Pablo, once same-sex marriage was legalized across the United States.
“I think after being married and having that finality, it was just like, we can relax,” Cleo told News 3 in Las Vegas.
But that wasn’t the case since same-sex marriage was still illegal on her reservation.
“Wow, I have to run off my reservation because I am married to a woman,” she said.
“If you don’t practice Indian law, tribal courts, people are so shocked at how different things are. Things don’t work the same.”
Cleo filed a lawsuit, and after a two year battle the tribal court ruled in favor of the Pablos.
“This decision made it clear that the tribal law was unconstitutional under tribal law” and not just U.S. federal law, said attorney Sonia Martinez, who represented the couple. “I have no idea if other tribes are going to do the same thing, but I think it at least opens the door.”
According to NBC News, Ak-Chin Indian Community Chairman Robert Miguel said he would not appeal the ruling.
“Today marks the conclusion of a lengthy but necessary legal exercise — one that respects the rights of tribal members and honors the sacred sovereignty and self-governance of the Ak-Chin Indian Community,” Miguel said.
Though the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage in the states and most territories, it did not establish marriage equality on Native American lands.
That being said, at least 35 tribes have legally recognized same-sex marriages, including the Cherokee, Blackfeet and, now, Osage Nations as well as the Cheyenne, Coquille and Arapaho Tribes.
According to The Arizona Republic, the court ruling said “four other Arizona tribes recognize same-sex marriages, including the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the White Mountain Apache tribe.”
“You’re taught growing up that you have to stand up for what’s right,” Cleo said after the ruling. “I actually did it.”
The tribe is reviewing its policies to reflect the tribal court’s decision.