Couple makes history in Suquamish Tribe

From left, James Abler and Terry Johnson II recite their vows at their wedding on Wednesday at Clearwater Casino Resort.   - Richard D. Oxley / Bainbridge Island Review
From left, James Abler and Terry Johnson II recite their vows at their wedding on Wednesday at Clearwater Casino Resort.
— image credit: Richard D. Oxley / Bainbridge Island Review

SUQUAMISH — Suquamish Tribe member James Abler and his fiancé Terry Johnson II didn’t set out to be the first same-sex married couple recognized by the Suquamish Tribe. The timing just felt right.

“We spent a lot of time apart this summer while I was on the Inter-tribal Canoe Journey,” Johnson said. “It was hard on our family and made us realize how much we wanted to be married.”

Abler and Johnson met on Sept. 11, 2009, and decided to take their vows on the fourth anniversary of their first date. In addition to their anniversary, it was also Abler’s 27th birthday.

“I’m excited and a little nervous. But, I feel like it has been a long time coming. I think we both knew we would eventually get married,” Abler said.

The two were married by Suquamish Tribe Judge Randal Steckel Wednesday afternoon on the Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort lawn overlooking Agate Pass.

“You can’t legislate love. Love makes a family,” Steckel said. “It makes me very proud to do this here.”

The wedding was the sixth same-sex wedding at Clearwater, but the first for the Tribe.

“I’m here as a friend of the family more than anything else. I’ve known them for several years, ever since they got together,” Suquamish Tribe Chairman Leonard Forsman said.

“It’s our first same-sex marriage under our ordinance. It’s something to be proud of, to offer this to members of our community who have been productive and supportive. It’s fitting that they be the first.

“We’re proud to be one of the first Tribes to recognize same-sex marriages.”

The Suquamish Tribal Council passed an ordinance recognizing same-sex marriage on Aug. 1, 2011.  Washington state voters approved a similar bill just 14 months later.

Abler and Johnson are known in the Suquamish community. Abler is a teacher at the Suquamish Tribe Marion Forsman-Boushie Early Learning Center and Johnson works for youth services in the Suquamish Tribe Sports and Recreation Department.

The couple plan to continue their lives in Suquamish while raising their two foster children, ages 5 and 7.

— Suquamish Tribe public information officer April Leigh and Herald reporter Richard D. Oxley contributed to this article.

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