Navajo lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community wrestles with marriage equality

TOHATCHI, N.M. - After the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a historic decision in favor of marriage equality, the Navajo lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community still is fighting for their own equality.

"Although we are pleased with this decision reaffirming our fundamental right to marry who we love, the Diné Marriage Act is still the law of the land," said Alray Nelson, lead organizer for the Coalition for Navajo Equality.

The Diné Marriage Act, among other things, voided and prohibited marriage between persons of the same sex stating that the purpose of marriages on the Navajo Nation was to promote strong families and to preserve and strengthen family values.

While the Supreme Court ruling means that same sex couples can get married in all 50 states, the law may not have impact in Indian county where there are tribal laws prohibiting same sex unions - while marriage equality was legalized in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico last year, the Navajo Nation government did not recognize those decisions and has not taken action on the question.

"[The] victory will provide a foundation for future action by gay and lesbian Navajo couples who only want to be treated with fairness and respect by their Nation," Nelson said. "The compassion shared by the Navajo people for our LGBT relatives and clan members will be the driving force behind efforts to finally repeal this discriminatory law."

Nelson said that while the Supreme Court has spoken, it was not enough to repeal the Diné Marriage Act, which was a law enacted in 2005 by conservative delegates. He said the law must be challenged today with a Navajo solution.

"That solution is either repealing it on the Council floor through legislation or by Navajo court action," Nelson said. "We believe Diné fundamental law and common law provide the necessary statutory protections for same-sex Navajo couples. These same laws that focus on harmony, compassion and strengthening families can invalidate the Diné Marriage Act tomorrow."

Of the 566 federally-recognized tribal nations in the United States, 12 nations recognize the freedom to marry. The Coalition is one of the largest LGBT-advocacy organizations in Indian country and envisions the Navajo Nation as a safe, supportive and inclusive home for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender family members.

"President Russell Begaye and the Navajo Nation Council has a real opportunity now to take a stand and be leaders for Diné equality," Nelson said. "Their support will end 10 years of discrimination towards our gay and lesbian couples and their families."

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