Although Oklahoma prohibits same-sex marriages, a gay couple has found a way to wed through Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal law in Concho, Oklahoma.
Darren Black Bear and Jason Pickel aren't even the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage certificate from this tribal government, but they are the first partners to go public with their matrimony. (Another gay couple wed in December 2012 under Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal law, but they chose to keep their marriage private, Yahoo News reported.)
On October 10, the Black Bears applied for their marriage certificate, and they plan to officially tie the knot at an open ceremony at the tribal multi-purpose center in Watonga, Oklahoma, on Halloween evening. The wedding will be officiated by Darren's father, a minister and former tribal councilman.
"I actually do believe that is has empowered some people," Black Bear told Indian Country Today Media Network of spreading the word about their nuptuals through media. "My dad says he has even been contacted by other same-sex couples who would like him to officiate their weddings as well."
"My dad always fought for civil rights, and he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr.," Black Bear added. "He has always fought for equality as a Native American; he's a full-blood Cheyenne."
The couple's nuptials kicked off a media frenzy when their friend Robin Dorner covered their upcoming union on the front page of the Oklahoma City-based newspaper The Gayly on October 10. Since then, local news outlets and TV stations picked up the story, and it quickly become an Internet sensation, hitting Gawker.com, Reddit.com, The Huffington Post and more.
"It's awesome; it really is," Black Bear told ICTMN.
"Jason just got off the phone with a reporter from The Los Angeles Times that is flying in on Thursday to conduct an interview with us," Black Bear beamed on Facebook on Tuesday, October 22.
Black Bear and Pickel, who have been together for more than nine years, had even considered traveling to Iowa or California to get married, but Jason called the tribal office on a whim. A tribal representative told Jason and Darren to come on down to the court with a $20 money order.
The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes do not expressly define marriage between a man and a woman. As Darren explained to ICTMN, the tribe will issue a marriage license to anybody who lives within the Tribes' jurisdiction, if at least one person is a tribal member.
Paula Ross, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Tax Commission, told NewsOK.com same-sex couples can't file as "married" in Oklahoma, regardless of the strike down of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). "Since Oklahoma doesn't recognize same-sex marriages … the Tax Commission is not accepting same-sex couples' tax returns," Ross said. "Our constitution says it's a man and a woman."
But Black Bear and Pickel hope to get federal tax credits and workplace health care benefits through their marriage status.
“I've been trying to get Jason on my [workplace] insurance … so that's part of the reason why we were looking to get married,” Black Bear told NewsOK.com. “He hasn't had insurance for a long time.”
As for the couple's upcoming ceremony on Halloween, friends, family and supporters are welcome to come "dressed as you are," Black Bear said. The pair will be casual, sporting khakis and button-downs, but they may don crowns at the reception, Black Bear laughed, noting it was Pickel's idea. The decorations, though, will be holiday festive. "Jason is a funeral science major; he's going to school to be a funeral director. So we found some cool things, some cute headstones, and some black paper plates and napkins," Black Bear said, adding that a friend of theirs is baking a cake. "We said, 'It's Halloween, have fun with it.'"
For Black Bear, an open marriage was a natural decision, given the outpouring of encouragement from the community.
"I've always known that I was gay. even when in grade school," Black Bear shared. "As a result, …I have experienced bullying, but not that extreme. …I'm really lucky that I've always been openly gay. There's no hiding it; it's part of me… But it has been really surprising how supportive people have been." When Black Bear revisited the tribal court house to personally drop off an invitation to a friend to attend the couple's wedding, "there were all kinds of people there for court," Black Bear said, "and so many people stopped me and congratulated me for getting married."