Tribal citizen Tim LaCroix, left, and his husband, Gene Barfield pose for a photo with a ceremonial circle of life that was made during their traditional Native American wedding ceremony at the government headquarters complex of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians on Friday, March 15, 2013, in Harbor Springs, Mich.(Photo: Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)
By John Carlisle, Detroit Free Press
HARBOR SPRINGS, Mich. -- The groom wore a black sweater. The other groom wore a red one.
LaCroix and Gene Barfield became the first same-sex couple to be
legally wed in Michigan, after the tribal chairman of the Odawa Indians
signed a resolution Friday recognizing gay marriage.
a member of the tribe, and Barfield, 60, took turns filling out an
application at the Odawa government facility, paid the $15 fee and
received a marriage license. Both smiled nervously.
Last year, the
Odawa tribal council debated a resolution to recognize gay marriage,
but the measure failed by one vote. When it was reintroduced, the
language was changed to require at least one spouse to be a tribal
citizen, and that swayed support. On March 2, it passed by a 5-4 vote.
that was needed was the signature of tribal Chairman Dexter McNamara.
McNamara not only signed it, but also asked to perform the wedding
"I've always felt that either you believe in equal
rights or you are prejudiced," McNamara said. "We don't have a dividing
line in this tribe. Everyone deserves to live the lives of their
Out of 500 federally recognized tribes in the country,
and a dozen in Michigan, the Odawa tribe became the first ever to
legalize gay marriage in the state and only the third in the nation.
because of tribal sovereignty, neither the state's constitutional
amendment prohibiting gay marriage nor the federal Defense of Marriage
Act can stop them.
"This is their turf," Barfield said, standing
in the tribal offices. "They have their own government, they have their
own police force, they have their own rules and regulations. They're
very big on respect, and for them to say to us 'We respect your
relationship and your prerogative to define it as you choose' is really
Added LaCroix: "I'm so proud of my tribe for doing this. I just can't say enough."
couple met in 1983 while both were on active duty in the Navy. They
live in northern Michigan, where they garden, assemble model railroads
and share two dogs and a cat.
"We've been partners for 30 years in
the way people use the word 'partner' for a same sex couple," Barfield
said. "Now we're not going to be partners anymore. We're going to be
About three-dozen guests filled the seats arranged in
the lobby for Friday's ceremony. There were relatives from both sides,
beefy tribal members, employees who work in the building and wanted to
wish the couple well, and a contingent from the hardware store where
"We're just all giddy over it," said Kathy Hughes, his longtime coworker. "They're like family to us."
After McNamara signed the bill, tribe communications coordinator Annette VanDeCar acknowledged it was a controversial decision.
be honest," she told the crowd. "There are people in our community that
aren't supportive of what is happening today, but that's OK. We as
Indians are taught to respect people as individuals, and as individual
people have the right to decide what is best for them."
After LaCroix and Barfield exchanged rings, and the chairman
pronounced them married. They punctuated the ceremony with a brief kiss
and a long, long hug.
Then they repeated it with a tribal ceremony
using the sage, the feathers, the maple branch and the drum that were
carefully laid out on a table.
There were no activist speeches, no
protesters -- only a crowd witnessing a wedding that was unlike any
they'd ever seen, but was really no different than any other.
just so excited for them," Hughes said. "They've been together 30
years. It's longer than a lot of marriages have lasted."