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News Release

Lakota People's Law Project

On Monday, July 8, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council passed a same-sex marriage ordinance in a 12 to three vote, with one abstention. With the ordinance’s passage, the Ogala Sioux Tribe (OST) became first in South Dakota to legalize same-sex marriage.

Two days later, the Oglala Sioux Tribe Law and Order Committee passed a resolution recommending that the tribe adopt a hate crime ordinance amending Law and Order Code Chapter Nine to include verbiage modeled on the Matthew Shepard Act.  

“These are historic days for our tribe, and for the rights of all people who seek equality, justice and recognition under the law,” said Chase Iron Eyes, who serves as lead counsel for the Lakota People’s Law Project and as Oglala Sioux Tribe President Julian Bear Runner’s public relations director.

The new marriage ordinance amends marital and domestic law that had not changed on Pine Ridge since 1935. The issue was brought to the current council’s attention by two women, Monique “Muffie” Mousseau and Felipa DeLeon, who grew up on Pine Ridge but found that they could not be married there in 2015 as they wished.

“My wife called the tribal courthouse because it was legal across the United States. So she called the courthouse to see if we were able to get a marriage license from here, from our tribe,” said DeLeon. “But they wouldn’t give us one.” 

Mousseau says that denial was part of a larger pattern of discrimination and violence. “We have seen and felt and heard the pain, the cries of suicide, sexual assaults, rapes, murders. We have had to come back to different funerals, different events concerning LGTBQ,” she said. “And nothing has changed as far as the gay bashing.” 

The two began petitioning for changes to the laws in May, culminating in the passage of the new ordinance and resolution last week.

Chase Iron Eyes interviews Felipa DeLeon and Monique "Muffie" Mousseau after the Oglala Sioux Tribe's passage of the first same-sex marriage law in South Dakota.

As of 2015, a survey from the Center for American Progress and Movement Advancement Project reported that 36 percent of Native American transgender people have lost a job because they are transgender. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that “homeless youth are disproportionately African-American or American Indian and are often from lower-income communities.”

South Dakota’s hate crime law, 22-19B-1, was adopted in 2002. It does not protect gender identity or sexual orientation. Currently, the hate crime resolution passed at Pine Ridge is up for further discussion and debate by district councils. The Tribal Council will vote on it next at its meeting on the fourth Tuesday of August.