Cherokee couple Kathy Reynolds and Dawn McKinley are now free to register their marriage certificate with the Cherokee Nation District Court.

The Judicial Appeals Tribunal ruled Dec. 22 the nine tribal councilors seeking to invalidate the certificate had no standing, and failed to show they were individually harmed by the Cherokee marriage.

Tribal councilor Linda O’Leary of Jay questioned the court’s decision.

“All they [JAT judges] want to do is say no one has standing. Well, what I want to know is, who does have standing in our courts? I’d like that answered,” said O’Leary.

Reynolds told an area newspaper she and McKinley were unaware of the court’s decision for about a week after it was released, but have always considered themselves married.

“We were never confident, but we were hopeful,” she said. “We’re glad to be married. ... The tribe is finally recognizing our rights.”

While the ruling allows the couple to file their marriage certificate, that decision is left for McKinley and Reynolds to make. They have agreed to wait so they could “figure out all their options.”

“It does speak volumes for the couple’s right to privacy,” said Lena Ayoub of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “Their marriage is extremely important to them, and this is worth it from that standpoint. The couple is married: The final step is filing.”

Lisa Field, administrator of the Cherokee Nation District Court, said she couldn’t confirm whether the court would register the certificate, but if the couple showed up to do so, “a staff decision” would be made.

Todd Hembree, attorney for the tribal council who also failed to prove “personal harm” in a previous suit, said JAT’s decision prevents councilors from protecting their oaths of office.

“If the councilors don’t have standing, I don’t know who does,” he said. “The one appropriate official who did not bring a lawsuit was the tribe’s general counsel.”

Ayoub argued the councilors did not prove how they were harmed, but Hembree disagreed.

“The councilors were denied an opportunity to defend the heritage and culture of the Cherokee Nation,” he said.

The Owasso couple received their certificate of marriage in May 2004. Attempts to file the certificate following a marriage ceremony in Tulsa were denied by the tribe’s court clerk, and was followed by a number of court filings.

Shortly after McKinley and Reynolds filed for their application, the Tribal Council passed a Marriage and Family Act prohibiting same-sex marriages in the tribes jurisdictional area.

Tribal laws had never mentioned gender issues prior to the act.

The court’s decision may pave the way for the Owasso couple to have the only same-sex marriage recorded with the state’s largest tribe.


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