(Reuters) - The Cherokee Nation's Attorney General has issued an opinion declaring bans on same-sex marriage to be in violation of their tribal constitution, documents show.
The move comes more than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in June 2015 striking down same-sex marriage bans in the 13 U.S. states that still prohibited it.
The 12-page opinion, issued last Friday and uploaded online by the local Tahlequah Daily Press newspaper, argues that a 2004 Cherokee law that defined marriage as being explicitly between a man and a woman is unconstitutional.
"The Cherokee Nation Constitution protects the fundamental right to marry, establish a family, raise children and enjoy the full protection of the Nation's marital laws," Attorney General M. Todd Hembree wrote in the opinion.
"The right to marry without the freedom to marry the person of one's choice is no right at all," Hembree added.
The sovereign Cherokee Nation is the largest tribal nation in the United States with more than 317,000 citizens, according to its website. Its capital is in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
The ruling will require the tribe to recognize the rights of people who got same-sex marriages in other jurisdictions, the opinion says.
The decision arose from a question asked by the Cherokee Nation Tax Commission as to whether it could accept a same-sex marriage certificate as proof of a woman's identity even though the tribe's laws defined marriage as "a civil contract between one man and one woman."
Hembree wrote that prior to the 2004 law, the Cherokee Nation's marriage laws were not gender specific. He added there was evidence that the tribe recognized partnerships akin to same-sex marriage among a minority of its people in its distant history.
The tribe's former principal chief who signed the 2004 law, Chad Smith, told the Tulsa World newspaper that he approved of the opinion. He said he signed the bill in "adhering to past Cherokee law."
(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Sandra Maler)