The Fourth Osage Nation Congress passed a Same-Sex Marriage law today, recognizing same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions but not allowing the ON Trial Court to perform the same-sex marriages.
ONCA 15-54, sponsored by Congresswoman Shannon Edwards, passed with nine “yes” votes and three “no” votes. Congress members voting “yes” were: Shannon Edwards, Otto Hamilton, John Jech, James Maker, Archie Mason, James Norris, Angela Pratt, Ron Shaw and Alice Buffalohead. Voting “no” was William “Kugee” Supernaw, RJ Walker and Maria Whitehorn.
The original bill was introduced in April of last year and was amended yesterday by Congressman Shaw to deny same-sex couples the right to be married in ON courts. Prior to his amendment, the bill allowed the marriages to take place.
Before the vote Congress members stated their views on same-sex marriage and the bill, despite the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing the unions last year. The Osage Nation is a sovereign government and does not have to follow the Supreme Court ruling.
Congressman Shaw said he felt his amendment to the bill was a compromise among the members of Congress.
“I believe the bill as amended … provides the practical basis for legal rights for same sex marriage, spouses and those entitled to benefits … their same sex marriage will be recognized with the Osage Nation,” Shaw said.
Congresswoman Edwards said she was disappointed Shaw’s amendment to her bill passed. She said she has read books about those who observed Osages in the 1800s and there were same sex couples living together.
“The U.S. Supreme Court says it is legal and those laws that are trying to prohibit same sex couples from being married is unconstitutional,” she said. “When you boil all of these things down it’s about a civil union … about recognizing legal rights, which is something different from what happened in front of the eyes of God.”
“This started out as a civil union bill, so that people of the same sex can go over to the court and get recognized for their legal rights.”
Thomas Rodman, an Osage tribal member from Colorado who is a member of the LGBT community, has been following the same sex marriage bill since Edwards introduced it last year. He said he was very disappointed by the law passed today.
“It’s kind of like a restaurant saying to Osage people, ‘you can eat here but not in the dining room. You’ll get the food, but you can’t do the same things as the rest of my customers.’ Or back during the days before any civil rights when blacks were allowed to ride the bus but were supposed to ride at the back, or drink from a different fountain. They got the water, but they weren’t equal. That’s the way I feel about Ron Shaw’s amendment. It’s insulting and demeaning,” Rodman said. “It’s simply his way of keeping same sex people from marriage equality. We won’t be truly equal until we’re truly equal. I’m guessing it might be a religious thing for him. And I think my ancestors wouldn’t stand for it.”
Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear has five working days to veto the bill before the bill becomes law. Standing Bear said he has not read the final version of the bill and could not make a statement at this time.
Congresswoman Buffalohead, who co-sponsored the bill, said her late mother Rosa-Raye Hill Pledger raised her to treat others as she would like to be treated. She also said obtaining her master’s degree in Human Resources taught her how to be fair in tough situations.
“We’re still talking about inequality, I have a hard time with that, it bothers me. I have a hard time understanding it,” Buffalohead said. “Like not allowing a same sex couple to do what a heterosexual couple has the right to do in our courts.”
Congressman Supernaw, Mason and Maker said they had questions about what would happen to an individual’s headright interest or land if the Osage tribal member was restricted. Would their estate go to their LGBT spouse or not. Supernaw also said there was a lack of information in the bill on which jurisdictions the Osage courts could recognize and whether common law marriages would be considered.
Congressman Hamilton supported the bill but not the amendment made by Shaw.
“I too am disappointed the language was changed in this bill. Just for the simple fact I believe all members of the Osage Nation deserve the same right, by saying one group of people can’t get married in the court system … by doing that we’re creating a second class citizen, a second class member, that really bothers me,” Hamilton said. “It’s a very small step, I believe this body could have done better on this.”
Congresswoman Pratt, who began to cry during her statement, said she thinks of her six children when the topic of same sex marriage comes up and how she would respond to them if they said they were in love with a person of the same gender.
“That’s all I want for my children is to love deeply, be loved, have a good life and live happy,” Pratt said. “I will support this bill, to get what we can; and I was disappointed and I believe in our sovereignty and equality for our people.”
Congressman Norris said although he is Catholic and his faith does not permit same sex marriage, it was his job to take care of all Osage people and the bill had sat in the Governmental Operations committee too long and something needed to be done.
“I thought we should get people recognized, give them the benefits, the capabilities to participate in all the benefits [just like when] a woman and man are married,” Norris said. “I’m going to go ahead and vote yes to recognize marriages in our nation.”
Walker, who is the chair of the Governmental Operations committee, said politics may have had something to do with the bill sitting in his committee so long. He said he didn’t mind the “lifestyle” of the LGBT community but he was not a proponent of same sex marriage.
“I felt when the [U.S.] Supreme Court ruled in favor of this, I don’t agree with it. I don’t agree with it now. If that makes them … second-class citizens, I don’t see it that way. We’re not going to recognize same sex marriages and I wish that we wouldn’t,” Walker said. “Grandpa [the late Osage Congressman Mark Freeman] used to tell me, son we’re all a product of our genetics and our upbringing … I don’t support same sex marriages and I’ll be voting no.”
[Editor's Note: This story was clarified on April 8, 2016.]