Same-Sex Marriages: Unrecognized in Navajo Culture, but for How Long?
The Navajo language does not contain a term to describe gay relationships. That’s according to Deswood Tome, a special adviser to Navajo President Ben Shelly.
“In our cultural teaching and language, there is no recognition of a woman and a woman or a man and a man marrying each other,” he said. “You can’t even say that in the Navajo language.”
Tome offers this not as an excuse for the Nation’s ban on same-sex marriages, but as a starting point for a discussion on reversing a 2005 Navajo law that prohibited plural marriages, unions between close relatives and marriages between “persons of the same sex.” The Dine Marriage Act of 2005, passed as then-President George W. Bush championed on the national scale to ban same-sex marriages, has become a sore point for gay couples and gay rights activists on the Navajo Nation.
Prior to 2005, the tribe did not restrict marriage to heterosexual couples, Tome said. The act, which passed unanimously through the Navajo Nation Council in April of 2005, was the first to define marriage.
“It went before the Council at a time when nationally there was a lot of discussion around gay marriage,” Tome said. “The Council felt compelled to ensure that marriage remains as it is known in our Navajo language and teaching, that marriage is between a man and a woman.”
Sixty-seven delegates originally voted in favor of the act, which immediately voided same-sex marriages and stated that the purposes of marriage are “to promote strong families and to preserve and strengthen family values.”
The tribe’s stance on gay marriages, however, has forced it into the national limelight in recent months. In December, two of the three states comprising portions of the reservation took bold stands in favor of gay rights.
New Mexico’s Supreme Court on December 19 legalized same-sex marriages. On the following day, a district court judge in Utah – one of the most conservative states in the country – ruled that the state’s ban of same-sex marriages violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protections for all people.
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