Metro Weekly

Navajo Nation Introduces Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Delegate Seth Damon sponsored a bill to the Council that repeals the same-sex marriage ban in the Navajo Nation.

Photo: Don Graham / flickr

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Seth Damon of Bááháálí, New Mexico, sponsored a bill to recognize same-sex marriage in the Navajo Nation.

“The prohibition against same-sex marriages does not uniformly welcome or support the well-being of all Diné,” he said at Navajo Nation Pride last weekend. 

Diné is the Navajo word for “the people” and refers to the Navajo people, similar to the concept of the plurality of Dasein in German.

“The purpose of the legislation I’m sponsoring is to ensure that all Diné are welcome within the four sacred mountains and to recognize all marriages within the Navajo Nation,” Damon continued.

Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren, Vice President Richelle Montoya, and Navajo Nation Council Speaker Crystalyne Curely attended the signing of the bill into the legislature. They proclaimed June 18 to 25 as Navajo Nation Pride Week, becoming the first Navajo leaders to do so. 

This comes three years after the 24th Navajo Nation Council — it is now the 25th — passed a resolution marking the third week of June as Diné Pride Week. 

“We feel it’s in the best interest of the Navajo Nation to repeal Title 9 so that everyone can enjoy the full benefits of legal recognition of their marriages within the Navajo Nation, whether our relatives are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transgender, non-gender specific, two-spirit, or Nádleehí,” Damon said in a statement. 

“Nádleehí directly translates in English to ‘one who constantly transforms,’” PBS reported in its 2001 documentary Two Spirits. “Navajo and some other Native cultures embrace the concept of four genders, abandoning the binary dichotomy of male and female and the Western construction of what those two genders mean.”

“We see ourselves as sacred human beings,” Diné PRIDE co-founder Alray Nelson told Source NM. “And with that knowledge, we teach every LGBTQ young person not only is the Navajo Nation on the right side of history, but its leaders also support our community.”

The bill notes that Navajo people were more accepting of sexual and gender identity diversity before European colonizers arrived. 

“The Navajo Nation further recognizes that Navajo society accepted multi-gendered individuals prior to European arrival,” the measure states. “European religious influence viewed homosexuality as an intolerable sin. As a result, acceptance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer, two-spirit (LGBTQ+) people declined within tribal nations. Today, many tribal nations have repealed same-sex prohibition laws.”

Same-sex marriage was banned within the Navajo Nation in 2005 under the Diné Marriage Act. The then-Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. vetoed it, but the Navajo Nation Council overrode the veto. 

The Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision did not impact the Diné Marriage Act.

That decision held that state bans on same-sex marriage, or state failure to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages, was unconstitutional under the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. But tribal governments are not considered states nor subdivisions of states under federal law, so the ruling was not applicable. 

While the bill would grant equal protection for same-sex marriage, traditional Navajo wedding ceremonies would remain unchanged. The ceremony is based on the legend of the White Shell woman who married the Sun God to bring balance and harmony to the universe. 

This is not the first time the Navajo Nation Council has tried to pass this reform. Eugene Tso, a former Navajo Nation Council delegate, introduced similar bills in October 2014, March 2022, and June 2022. None passed. 

“We live with people we love. There should be no discussion about it when this legislation comes to the floor,” Tso said in a statement on the current bill, Source NM reported. “Why would you debate it? This is who we are. We’re Diné.”

The bill underwent a five-day comment period starting on June 23, 2023. It is now in various committees before being introduced to the full Council. It will need 13 of 24 delegates to vote in favor of adoption and then the President’s signature to become law.

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