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Native Americans torn over gay marriage

BY ROB HOTAKAINEN, MCCLATCHY WASHINGTON BUREAU

WASHINGTON -- For Heather Purser, the first pang came more than a decade ago as she gathered clams on Puget Sound’s Chico Beach, watching her cousin’s new husband assist with the digging. She figured she’d never have a legal spouse to help with the backbreaking work.

Then Purser, a member of Washington state’s Suquamish Tribe who knew she was gay at age 7, decided to act: She led a personal lobbying campaign that ended with her tribal council voting in 2011 to approve same-sex marriage.

“I realized that I do have the power to change my situation,” said Purser, who’s now 30 and a commercial seafood diver from Olympia, Wash.

With more Native Americans making similar demands, the Suquamish tribe is one of three that have signed off on marriage by same-sex couples, laws that apply only on their land. Legal analysts predict that more tribes will follow, giving new rights to what many Native Americans call “two-spirit” individuals, who carry both a feminine and masculine spirit.

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