PINE RIDGE, S.D. (AP) — The Oglala Sioux say they are the first tribe in South Dakota to legalize same-sex marriage. The tribal council last week approved a same-gender marriage ordinance in a 12-3 vote with one abstention. The new marriage ordinance amends marital and domestic law that has not changed on the Pine Ridge reservation since 1935.
Monique “Muffie” Mousseau and Felipa De Leon grew up on the reservation, but found they could not be married there in 2015. The couple received a license in Pennington County and wed at a group ceremony at Mount Rushmore.
The two women began petitioning for changes in the reservation’s law, resulting in the passage of same-sex marriage.
“We are looking out for future generations, for protections and for equality,” Mousseau told the Rapid City Journal. “These foundations of laws have to be in place because we have grandkids. And that next generation coming up, we don’t want them experiencing the same (gay) bashing, we don’t want them to get to a point where somebody says a bad word to them because they like somebody of the same sex and they hang themselves. We don’t want that.”
Mousseau and De Leon live in Rapid City, but three of their five children and four of their five grandchildren live on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
The U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, but not for the 573 federally recognized tribes.
“Tribes have the right to make the decision themselves,” said Marcia Zug, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law who specializes in family and federal Indian law.
In 2016, the Cherokee Nation’s attorney general legalized gay marriage for the tribe, which at the time was among a handful of federal recognized tribes that had explicit bans on gay marriage. After a two-year legal battle, a tribal court cleared the way in 2017 for gay couples to marry on an American Indian reservation in the Phoenix area. The court ruled that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry under the constitution of the Ak-Chin community and the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.
Mousseau said she was happy to see the tribe approve of same-sex marriage through its own sovereign process even if meant waiting longer.
“We’re doing this for all the children, everybody’s grandchildren, everybody’s great-grandchildren. Not just ours. But all the whole next generation,” De Leon added.