Tribal chairman to OK same-sex marriage, wed 2 men

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HARBOR SPRINGS, Mich. — The chairman of a northern Michigan Indian tribe says he'll sign a same-sex marriage bill Friday, then preside at the wedding of two men.

The legislative body of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians voted 5-4 on March 3 to amend the Harbor Springs-based tribe's laws to allow same-sex marriages. Tribal Chairman Dennis McNamara said he will sign the bill Friday morning.

"There should not be a dividing line and we should all be able to seek a good life," McNamara said in a statement.

McNamara then plans to officiate at the wedding of two of his longtime friends, Tim LaCroix, 53, and a member of the tribe, and Gene Barfield, 60.

LaCroix told the Petoskey News-Review (http://bit.ly/YnSkXc ) that arrangements for the wedding remained undecided days before the ceremony.

"We ordered some wedding cupcakes and that is about it," he joked.

At least two other U.S. Indian tribes recognize gay marriage. The Coquille Tribe in North Bend, Ore., began recognizing the unions in 2009, and the Suquamish Tribe in Suquamish did so in 2011.

In 2004, Michigan voters wrote a ban on gay marriage into the state Constitution. Federally recognized Native American tribes are self-governing and not bound by the state law.

LaCroix and Barfield met in the Navy 30 years ago and live in Boyne City. They say they would have wanted to marry long ago had it been legal but held out little hope for it.

"Even in my coming out years, the thought of marriage was so farfetched that it really didn't show up on my mental landscape," Barfield said.

Tribal member Nathan Bauer-Spector, who declared nonlegal vows with his partner at the tribal government building in 2011, said in an email from his home in San Diego that he has "of course started making plans to return to Michigan this summer to formally document our union."

Bauer-Spector said he is thankful for the decision, but wants the same rights for members "within all aspects of the tribe, not just marriage."