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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 10 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 02
Navajo marriage equality on the horizon
Section One
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Navajo marriage equality on the horizon

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Although same-sex marriages are now legal in New Mexico, and may soon be in Utah, they are not in the huge Navajo reservation spreading over nearly 28,000 square miles in New Mexico and neighboring Utah and Arizona.

The legal doctrine of tribal sovereignty means that the Navajo Nation is internally self-governing, and under the Diné Marriage Act of 2005, marriages 'contracted' outside of tribal lands are recognized, but same-sex marriage is 'void and prohibited.'

'The purposes of marriage on the Navajo Nation are to promote strong families and to preserve and strengthen family values,' the law states.

Diné is the historical name for the Navajo people. The Navajo are the second most numerous Native nation, with some 200,000 registered members. The Cherokee, whose main reservation is in Oklahoma, are the largest, with 300,000 members.

Navajo officials say that legalization of Gay and Lesbian marriage in New Mexico does not affect tribal law.

'We are upholding the law as currently enacted,' spokesperson Deswood Tome told The Daily Times newspaper.

Tome is an advisor to Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly.

Some officials say that recent court decisions may lead the tribe to rethink its position on same-sex marriages. Jared Touchin, spokesperson for the office of the Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council, the tribal legislature, said the court decision has the potential to make Navajo lawmakers rethink the issue.

'However, most would agree that the Navajo Nation has taken a conservative approach to gay marriage, exemplified by the Diné Marriage Act of 2005,' he cautioned, adding that there is currently no official proposal to repeal the act.

Alray Nelson, founder of the Coalition for Navajo Equality, a group working to repeal the Diné Marriage Act, agreed that the New Mexico Supreme Court decision puts the issue of equality squarely before tribal leaders.

'It tells our leaders that the Diné Marriage Act is a law of discrimination,' Nelson said.

Navajo activists have settled on a legal strategy to overturn the law, with plans for a lawsuit in tribal court and a public education campaign over the coming year. Alternatively, they might put the issue up for a vote, Nelson said.

Currently, eight native tribes allow their Gay and Lesbian members to marry: the Suquamish Tribe and the Colville Tribal Council of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation, both in Washington; the Coquille Tribe in Oregon, the Tribal Council of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians in Michigan, the Santa Ysabel Tribe in California, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma, and the Leech Lake Tribal Court in Minnesota.

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