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Renewed push for repeal of Navajo Nation's same-sex marriage ban

Posted at 2:51 PM, Aug 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-08 19:44:25-04

LGBTQ rights activists are renewing their push for a repeal of the Navajo Nation's same-sex marriage ban.

While the United States Supreme Court declared marriage equality the law of the land, it does not apply on the sovereign Navajo Nation. A bill has been introduced in the 24th Navajo Nation Council to repeal the Diné Marriage Act, which banned same-sex marriages on the nation's largest tribal land that spans three states.

"I don’t feel like discriminating among Navajos — it’s not right within our own way of life," the bill's sponsor, Council Delegate Eugene Tso told FOX 13 News. "That’s the reason why I am pushing this."

Alray Nelson, the executive director of the LGBTQ rights group Navajo Pride, said a repeal does more than allow same-sex marriage in the Navajo Nation.

"Not only will it guarantee equal marriage for all Navajo people, it will also reform Navajo law to ensure we protect the rights of our Navajo women," he said. "Currently, our tribal code, under this particular marriage law, the Diné Marriage Act, it says within tribal code our women have to receive permission from their husbands or spouse to make decisions about their health, their healthcare and financial decisions."

It's not the first time LGBTQ rights activists have attempted a repeal of the Diné Marriage Act. But it may be the furthest it has gotten so far. Initial votes have been in favor of it, Delegate Tso said. Candidates for Navajo Nation Council and president even appeared at Navajo Pride events this year.

In a video played for people who attended Navajo Pride, 24th Navajo Nation Council Speaker Seth Damon suggested support for a repeal.

"We need to start having a dialogue again about what it is to be Navajo. Who have we left behind?" he said on the video. "Who can we still continue to bring on and move down that path and say we accept you."

Council Delegate Mark Freeland told FOX 13 News he was willing to consider "a good, thorough discussion on it." He said he had not taken an official position on a repeal.

Some religious groups are lining up to oppose a repeal. The Arizona Republic reported that Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said at a primary election debate there should be a public vote on same-sex marriage, something Navajo Pride opposes.

"It originated on the Council chamber's floor and it should end there as well," Nelson said.

If the bill doesn't make it this year, Nelson said LGBTQ rights activists will try again next year. They are pushing supporters to back candidates who favor a marriage equality act. He said passage would send a powerful message.

"It also sends a profound message to our LGBTQ Diné Navajo kids, especially those that may be questioning or still in the closet, that their government has their backs and it’s OK for them to be who they are," he said. "But also sends a message to our gay and lesbian Navajo couples to tell them to come home. You are welcome here."