Navajo Nation Considers New Bill To Legalize Marriage Equality

Navajo consider new bill to legalize same-sex marriages.

Towards a historic turning point for equal rights?

Same-sex couples on the Navajo Nation have been denied equal privileges and benefits enjoyed by their straight counterparts due to a long-standing prohibition on same-sex marriage. This could potentially change in the near future, as lawmakers within the Navajo Nation are presently evaluating legislation designed to lift the same-sex marriage ban and provide LGBTQ couples with equal spousal rights.

The Current Navajo Marriage Law

In 2005, the Navajo Nation passed the Diné Marriage Act, which prohibits same-sex marriage because it defines marriage as “the union of one man and one woman.”

So currently, same-sex couples are not recognized by the tribe and are not allowed to marry on the reservation. This also means that they do not have the same benefits and protections as heterosexual couples.

A New Bill Could Change Everything

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Eugene Tso.

Photo from Twitter @navajocouncil

In June, Navajo Nation Council Delegate Eugene Tso introduced a new bill that would repeal this marriage equality ban.

This is the second time in 2022 Tso has sponsored a bill to legalize marriage equality on the Navajo Nation. His first bill did not make it through the legislative process, and he ended it a few months later to rework the proposal. 

If the new bill is approved, it would be an important step toward equality and justice for all members of the Navajo Nation, regardless of gender.

Bill To Remove Gender-Specific Language Moves Forward

One of the most notable changes the bill would make is the change to the Diné marriage act. This change would make marital status more gender inclusive, reflecting the fact that not all marriages are between a man and a woman.

Diné Pride Executive Director and Navajo Nation Council Director of Communications Alray Nelson explained to the Arizona Mirror that the legislation “does not change any language around the marriage between a man and a woman. It actually goes further and protects marriage between the Navajo people.”

“This legislation corrects that history and corrects that discriminatory law,” he added. “This law will validate a lot of things for a lot of people.”

However, the bill will not change the provisions for traditional Navajo wedding ceremonies.

But Tso’s Bill Would Open The Door To Adoption

The proposed legislation would include and recognize same-sex couples as families and allow them access to adoption if they choose to adopt. This change would help create an equally inclusive and supportive environment for all families on the Navajo Nation.

It Will Empower Women

If passed, the bill would help redefine domestic relations on the Navajo Nation. Supporters of the bill say it would empower women.

“This legislation will not only empower our women, but it will also ensure that everyone on the Navajo nation can choose to love who they love,” Nelson said.

Also, if you’re a Navajo woman, the law currently states that you can’t get married until you’re 21, unlike men.

The new legislation would give Navajo women the same marriage rights as men, which would lower the legal marriage age to 18 for women and eliminate gender-based inequality as it states that “married women of the age of 18 years and upwards have the same legal rights and are subject to the same legal liabilities as men of the age of 18.”

And It Would Allow Recognition And Access To The Same Rights And Protections

If passed, the bill would finally grant recognition to already married same-sex couples within the tribe. Currently, these couples are only recognized by the U.S. federal and state governments in which they live, but not within the tribe itself.

This recognition would give these couples the same rights and protections as other married couples on the Navajo Nation.

And couples wishing to marry on their land in the Navajo tradition could finally do so.

However, there are still some important steps to take before the bill becomes law.

Bill Status: What You Need To Know

The Navajo Nation Council debates bill legalizing same-sex marriage.

Photo by William Nakai

  • Bill Ends Five-Day Public Comment Period On July 4

Josie Raphaelito and her wife are just two of the many people who have suffered from discrimination. They told their story to the council members during a public hearing, urging them to approve the measure that would help fight against this type of discrimination.

“I truly want to be able to return home to Dinétah and know that my wife and I are protected and legally recognized as a married couple,” Raphaelito told the committee. “With all the hate, violence, and attacks on human rights in the United States, I want to know that we are safe once we move back home. Safe to live free from discriminatory laws that use colonize theories of gender and love and diminish our ways of life and knowing as Diné people.”

Dr. Jennifer Denetdale, a professor at the University of New Mexico and chair of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, spoke in support of the measure to recognize same-sex marriage. She said her research showed that the Navajo people have traditionally recognized more than one gender; and she urged delegates to vote for the measure to show respect for history and tradition.

Indeed, in Navajo culture, the Nádleehí are considered a third or multiple gender. They are often mentioned in stories talking about the separation of the sexes. According to Denetdale, the Nádleehí were traditionally considered mediators and negotiators within Navajo society. They were also skilled in many areas, such as weaving and knowledge of sacred ceremonies.

The Nádleehí play an important role in Navajo culture, and their stories help teach the importance of balance and respect.

“Our LGBTQ+ (and) two-spirits look to this story about the Nádleehí to affirm their place in our families and communities,” she said.

The idea here was to highlight the fact that the marriage equality ban is based on two genders, which is not aligned with the ancestral culture of the Navajo.

  • Bill Was Debated By The Health, Education, And Social Services Committee On July 13

After the public hearings, the bill went to the Health, Education, and Human Services Committee. They voted on it on July 13. The bill only got support from one delegate, while two others opposed the bill. Three other members of the committee didn’t vote.

  • But This Is Only The Beginning

In the Navajo Nation, a bill must pass through four committees before it can be considered by the Navajo Nation Council. Even if one committee votes against the bill, it will still be considered by the three other committees. This means that the bill to legalize marriage equality will still be considered by three other committees, and its final fate will rest with the Navajo Nation Council.

If approved by the Council, the bill will then be sent to Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez to be signed into law.

Although the bill to legalize marriage equality has encountered some opposition in the Health, Education, and Human Services Committee, it continues to move forward. This process could take some time, but in the meantime, supporters of the measure continue to fight for its passage, hoping it will eventually become law.

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Monday, 02 October 2023