By Alray Nelson, NEQ Organizer
In 2004, President George W. Bush urged States and Tribal Nations to amend their laws to protect marriage between one man & one woman. In April 2005, the Navajo Nation Council reacted by passing the Diné Marriage Act that made “unions between members of the same sex void & prohibited”. Within the Council Chambers, debate focused much on the interpretation of Navajo values and beliefs to answer the question of what marriage represented to the Navajo people. The intent of the Diné Marriage Act, according to Council Delegate Larry Anderson, was to ‘promote strong families while preserving family values’. A majority of the 88-member Council voted for this law, many based their decisions on the fact that gay and lesbian couples cannot have children so realistically cannot also raise “strong families”. When I hear or read such intolerance, I am appalled by the way Navajo leaders continue to use our own language and culture against our own people. From my perspective, we were first the colonized and now we have learned how to be an oppressor. Why were these Navajo leaders closed-minded and unaccepting of our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer relatives? From our observations, the Council Chambers is still a place where homophobia still exists. Until a Navajo leader can confidently stand up as a champion for equality, it will remain this way.
Since the Dine’ Marriage Act, the rights and benefits only marriage provides are null & void for my partner and I within the Navajo Nation. We cannot jointly file for a home-site lease to build a house for our family in Arizona because of this law. We cannot jointly adopt a Navajo child nor have protective rights as guardians because of this law. We are not safe in the workplace or in public because the Navajo Nation has no anti-discrimination or hate crimes prevention laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals from violence. My partner and I have no right to claim each other on our health insurance policy or neither can we apply as a “legal” family for help because we have no marriage license that is usually needed as proof for government-assistance programs or for Medicare when were both elderly men. Gay and lesbian couples share the same economic, healthcare, and child-raising experiences as our parents have. These everyday life decisions between two human beings in a loving, committed relationship have been taken for granted because of the Dine’ Marriage Act and we must repeal it now. I just do not see how a marriage between my partner and I would damage American family values while many couples like us are just struggling to be respected and treated with fairness by the law.
Due to the hard work of the Navajo Equality Coalition, we are now working to repeal this law and will introduce Diné human rights & hate crimes prevention law to protect our people against hateful, biased-related crimes. It is in my opinion that to strengthen Navajo tribal sovereignty, we should pass a marriage equality law that would promote families rather than divide them. The Diné Marriage Act is a reminder of our failure to not be inclusive and it tells gay & lesbian couples they do not matter.
LGBTQ Navajo people fulfill a sacred role in our oral stories. We are medicine people, caretakers, artisans, teachers, athletes, veterans, and community leaders. With these duties, we adopt orphaned children, care for grandmas and grandpas, teach our children to speak the language, and raise strong families. The Coalition will work harder everyday to ensure our youth are encouraged to be who they are, our transgender women are honored, and that our couples are treated with fairness and respect. Understand that we are your relatives, your friends, co-workers and your sons and daughters – we are a part your family. The Navajo Nation is our home too and we are not going anywhere. New Mexico still has work to do to bring full marriage equality to our state.