Navajo Nation Grapples With Gay Marriage

Sovereign tribe is debating whether to overturn its ban on same-sex unions
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 28, 2023 4:50 PM CDT
Navajo Nation Grapples With Gay Marriage
A supporter of gay marriage waves a rainbow flag at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. While gay marriage became legal in the US in 2015, it still not legal in Navajo Nation.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Though same-sex marriage was legalized in the US in 2015, it's not the law of the land everywhere across the country. NBC News reports that Navajo Nation, which sets its own laws as a sovereign nation within the US, is grappling with a 2005 law passed by its council that continues to ban gay marriage. Under the Diné Marriage Act, tribal government only recognizes marriages between men and women, even if same-sex couples obtain marriage licenses in Utah, Arizona, or New Mexico (the states the reservation spans). But new legislation aims to repeal the ban, mostly—traditional Navajo wedding ceremonies would remain between a man and a woman, though the tribe would recognize gay marriage licenses from US states and same-sex partners would gain legal rights in matters such hospital visitations and property rights.

"If there's a better life that we as policymakers can make for our people and if this is one of them—to create better harmony, better initiatives, and better responsibility as a government—then why are we not pushing for this?" asks council delegate Seth Damon, who introduced the legislation to change the law. Per the Washington Post, this legislation has already hit a speedbump. The tribal council voted to table a decision this month, and instead seeks to examine setting up a referendum on gay marriage. Supporters of the repeal believe the onus to decide is on the council, which voted to pass the law in the first place. "At least we're having a discussion," says delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton, a co-sponsor of the legislation to overturn the ban.

Supporters of the legislation include Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren. Some indigenous scholars say the concept of "two-spirit people," referring to people with both male and female spirits within them, is embedded in their culture, and that recognition of various sexualities was suppressed by colonizers. Opponents fear it will alter tradition, and cite Christian teachings as a reason to keep the ban. "This is what I read, and this is what I understand," delegate Rickie Nez, pointing to a Bible on his desk, told the Post. While the debate continues, other tribes are watching. Hundreds of the 574 tribal nations have no law on the books about same-sex marriage, while 10 outright ban it. Fifty allow same-sex unions, including the Cherokee Nation. (Read more LGBTQ stories.)

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