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Congratulations to Tim LaCroix and Gene Barfield, whose marriage is the first legal same-sex marriage in Michigan. Their wedding on March 15, 2013 is not only a legal recognition of their 30-year relationship, but also the first marriage performed under the amended Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians marriage statute, which was approved on March 3 by the tribal council and signed into law by Odawa Tribal Chairman Dexter McNamara, who performed the ceremony, on the morning of March 15.
The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians is a federally recognized Native American tribe of Odawa Indians. A large percentage of the 4600 tribal members reside within the tribe's traditional homelands on the northwestern shores of Michigan's Lower Peninsula in Charlevoix and Emmet counties. The largest communities within the reservation boundaries are Harbor Springs, where the tribal offices are located, Petoskey, where the Tribe operates the Odawa Casino Resort, and Charlevoix.
As Brandon Hubbard reports in the Petoskey News, LaCroix and Barfield, both of Boyne City, Michigan, met in 1983 in Orlando when they were serving in the U.S. Navy.
The couple had long desired to marry, but often lost hope that it would be possible. "Even in my coming out years, the thought of marriage was so far fetched that it really didn't show up on my mental landscape," Barfield said.
When the Odawa Tribe adopted a resolution to accept same-sex marriage in 2012, Barfield proposed to LaCroix, who is a tribal member. LaCroix accepted the proposal, but their plans were put on hold when the amendment to the marriage statute failed in the tribal council.
In a surprise move on March 2, however, the marriage statute was reintroduced for a vote and on March 3 picked up the necessary 5 votes after a provision was included requiring at least one union member to be a tribal citizen.
The Odawa tribe is only the third tribe, after the Coquille Tribe of Oregon in 2009 and the Suquamish Tribe of Washington in 2011, to include same-sex marriage in its sovereign governmental laws.
In announcing that he would sign the new marriage statute, Odawa Tribal Chairman Dexter McNamara said, "There should not be a dividing line and we should all be able to seek a good life."
A long-time friend of LaCroix and Barfield, McNamara agreed not only to sign the statute but also to marry the two men.
As Miriam Leitsinger reports at NBC News, the ceremony, containing many traditional elements, was conducted in both English and Ojibwa before dozens of well-wishers.
A maple sapling, bent into a hoop with cedar, sage, tobacco and sweetgrass tied to it, was used in the ceremony. The sweetgrass was lit, and the hoop was waved up and down over the couple to ward off evil spirits and bring in good spirits.
"To have Tim's tribal community, which are an ancient people, welcome me into their midst and . . . that we are welcome as a married couple in a community, I'm just flabbergasted at how good this makes me feel," Barfield said, chuckling as he later added, "This goes to prove that the great American author Mark Twain was right: all things come to him who waits and doesn't die in the meantime."
McNamara said that it was an "historic" day for the tribe. He added that he thought other tribes in the state might follow their lead.
"We've been a role model, I think, for the federally recognized tribes of Michigan and it seems like we're out in front--and not taking anything away from the other federally recognized tribes--but, you know, it seems like we kind of opened the door for other tribes and I think other tribes will follow," he said.
Even now that they are married, however, major legal questions remain for Barfield and LaCroix, such as whether they will be able to file joint taxes with the state of Michigan or Internal Revenue Service and whether either will be able to claim survivor social security benefits.
Nevertheless, LaCroix and Barfield expressed gratitude to the tribal council and chairman for the opportunity to wed.
"There are other things we would have liked to do. We would have liked to adopt, but we are too old now," LaCroix reflected. But he added that he is happy that there will be now be hope for younger couples.
"The thought of being able to marry you," Barfield said to LaCroix, "is a really big deal for me."