Courtesy Bosque Redondo 1866/Museum of New Mexico
Image of Navajo same sex couple from the film “Two Spirits” taken in 1866.

Same-Sex Marriages: Unrecognized in Navajo Culture, but for How Long?

Alysa Landry

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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Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
This shouldn't even be something decent people even want to speak of. The Creator made a man & a woman as what a couple should be. Anything else goes against the Creator Himself! I am so sick & tired of this very small segment in the world trying to force people to accept something that goes against what many believe. This is a religious freedoms issue & NOT anything else but trying to impose this wicked lifestyle on the vast majority of people who refuse to call it anything else but what it is: Wickedness! The evil one & his minions have infected the entire Universe since the Great War in the heavens & he & 1/3 of the host were thrown out. They have been spreading their wickedness & perversion ever since! What is politically correct makes no difference my friends, the REAL battle is between the forces of Light & those of the Darkness. The choice has always been ours to make, but the consequences are very real when we make unwise choices.

Erockeris's picture
Submitted by Erockeris on
Two Bears, it would seem you're not native nor navajo at the least. Or else if you were, you would no of the two spirit. This creator you speak of is not of my peoples belief, we do not worship your white devil god. We make our prays to the things that are real, the sun, the earth, ect. The evil one you must be speaking of the coyote or the owl, i reall don't know. What I do know is you're a white man, and your words are of hate, twisted with lies and a lack of care for anyone else. If you are the spokes man for this god of your belief, then its house would be a curl, deceitful house. Not one to be worship. So please go troll somewhere else, and at least have the understanding of the topic/and people you are trying to troll. So EH HA JAY A TKEL EL INI

Pihi Tabee's picture
Pihi Tabee
Submitted by Pihi Tabee on
These two quotes by Tome speak the truth. “In our cultural teaching and language, there is no recogni tion 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.” “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.”

nadleeh's picture
Submitted by nadleeh on
Ok im 34 years old im Nadleeh, and I was raised in twin pines n.m. I left the reservation not only because of intolerance, but also I wasn't blessed with all the things others were blessed with. My mother passed away when I was born, and I was given to a woman in my opinion who wanted nothing but the check. Im not telling this for sympathy, im telling this because, I drank for a long time, wallowed in self pity, and I pray more, and I give a lot to grandfather. Since then I have been seeking out more about who we are as nadleeh, and dilbah people. And WE have legendary stories like turquoise boy marrying all the Navajo men. I mean these are stories passed down about the role two spirited people played in our tribe. Im just confused, why the memory of our nadleeh, and dilbah people go uncelebrated? Like they didn't suffer, or they didn't fight for my freedom to be here as well. Their suffering is not any less than a straight person. Clearly the tribe has a lot of educating to do, because suicide rate is high amongst young teens, and young adolescent people in the LGBT communities. Hats off to those out there fighting for their rights.. I believe our nadleeh ancestors would of done the same. How do you blame a generation for not being passed down ways that people once carried. Whether people want to admit it or not these were people like you and me, and they had song, ceremonies, etc. And now their not being taught to those who CLEARLY need it. Stop spreading hate.. we have enough of it in this world please :D blessings all brothers and sisters struggling out there my prayers are with you all :)

Pihi Tabee's picture
Pihi Tabee
Submitted by Pihi Tabee on
I have read that many tribes such as the Cherokee, Comanche, Iroquois, nor Apache had any such man and man relations. In fact, it was noted by James Adair in the early 1700's that any effimnate behavior by men were ridiculed and physically scratched. I also read there are 540 recognized tribes, and within those 540 tribes possibly 140 have any such mention of what some new agers are calling "two spirit". Even within many of these tribes, it is noted that these were often not accepted as normal and often lived on the fringes. What is the name for the Lakota who do everything backwards? They were basically teachers of what not to do. I believe there is alot of confusion as to the actually sexuality part of the equation. Many of these men, were not homosexuals, in fact I read that many were not supposed to have sex period. Some say, they were the medicine men. Well show me those great gay medicine men. It was not Sitting Bull nor was it Black Elk, both had wives and Children. Here is a quote by the late Russell Means. In my culture we have people who dress half-man, half-woman. Winkte, we call them in our language, but gay people are dressing up as women in our dances, and that's not the way. ...If you are Winkte, that is an honorable term, and you are a special human being. And among my nation and all Plains people, we consider you a teacher of our children, and are proud of what and who you are. If you're going to sing my songs, and do my dances, then ask us. Quit butchering my songs, my dances, and the things that I am proud to wear. It means nothing now. There is another quote from a man named Tim Giago, about a lady named Dr. Beatrice Medicine. "One very old friend of mine, Dr. Beatrice Medicine, a Standing Rock Hunkpapa who is now deceased, fiercely challenged my interpretation of the word. Medicine was one of those rare birds: an Indian anthropologist. She knew her history, and she knew her facts."

Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
Erockeris, I shall address some of what you have to say. When I initially read what you had to say it angered me. So I decided to sleep on it as it were & let a few days pass before I got back to you. While you have a right to say what you feel & believe, you do NOT have a right to attack me verbally in a vicious way. Even going so far as to accuse me being a race I am not of. I can forgive you for that, but I would like for you to think before you speak of matters you do not know about. Perhaps you are young & speak more than you listen. Many are guilty of that at times. As for my words being of hate, they are not. They are words that show I am not a person who tolerates things just because they are PC at the moment. I am a person of conviction who stands up against things that are evil, things & persons who are abusive to women, children & elders in all sorts of ways. It does not matter to me what a society says is now OK that for eons never has been. Right will always remain right & what is wicked will always remain as such no matter what the times or governments may dictate either through legal pressure or intimidation. There are some of us still around who refuse to accept wicked things as good things & call good things evil now. The forces of Light & Darkness have been in battle since the Great War that caused the demons to be cast out of our Creator's sight & His realm. The lord of Darkness & his minions are very much on the loose seeking all they can to deceive & lead astray into perverted & twisted thinking. They have roamed all over the Universe for eons of time causing all the trouble, destruction, pain & misery they can because they know their time is short in the grand scheme of things. Many native cultures speak of this all. It is not just something that the Christian Bible speaks of. It is there for anyone to find if they just take the time to search. Even many different cultures throughout time speak of the times of wickedness we are seeing engulf the world we live in today. Many speak of a time where things that are pure & good are now called evil & we supporters of such things called haters. We are not though. We are simply defenders & warriors of the Creator & Lord of Light. The true battles are warriors of Light against those of the lord of Darkness, his demons & those foolish ones who fall for their deceit & lies that eventually will destroy these mortals. This world of today is in crisis my friends. In no time in recorded history have things become as they have right now. Evil people are in places of authority spreading their insanity & evil ideas. Children are being told in public schools to disobey their parents & cultures, young people are so filled with hate & wicked thoughts. Children are being taught to turn their parents if when they feel they have been mistreated, even if the only maltreatment was that they were told they could not have something. Kids are being told it is against the law to pray in school, yet they are told they have the right to have birth control. Something is wrong here my friends with this sort of thinking. People are told by their lawmakers in many places they do not have the right to grow their own foods & consume anything unless the government has approved it. People & their children are needlessly suffering cruel diseases & pain because they are denied the right to seek the treatment that they feel would be best for them. Should they seek their cultural or religious beliefs for healing they are arrested & their children taken by force from them at times folks. Something is wrong with sort of thinking my friends. It's time for people to stand up against evil folks.

sweetgrass777's picture
Submitted by sweetgrass777 on
This is crap! Just another creation of the Satanic Church and European to decimate and kill of our people. There was never a word because it did not exist!!! Where if you found it in a book it was a dam lie told by a European. These poor men in this picture. Why are they like that??? He could have been enfeminated by abuse at a young age. This is what they did to young Native boys and girls. Throw in Alcohol and what these people may have went through. Would you be surprised if some of them where walking around sodomizing each other or acting like dam women!!!! Equal rights for what??? This will lead to the erasure of Native people. Another form of Genocide people wake up!!!! When two men sleep together they do not reproduce a child to carry on our genes and culture!!! This is what they want. "The 1800’s brought many changes to the American Indian’s way of life. The U.S. government contributed to the changes in several ways. It removed Indian people from their homelands and put them on reservations. It passed laws that forbade Indian people to practice their traditional ways of spirituality. In 1819, the United States government established the Civilization Fund, the first federal policy to directly affect Indian children. It provided grants to private agencies, primarily churches, to establish programs to “civilize the Indian.” In a report to Congress in 1867, the commissioner of Indian services declared that the only successful way to deal with the “Indian problem” was to separate Indian children completely from their tribes. They sent missionaries to the reservations to become agents in hopes that the missionaries would be able to educate and Christianize Indian people. The missionaries were not only sent by the U.S. government, but they were also paid by the government. The ceremonies of the tribes were looked upon as being pagan and the people themselves looked upon as savages. The parents of Indian children were believed to be unfit. A policy of assimilation began – which removed children from the home and placed them in boarding schools, usually far away from their parents. As a result of these earlier policies and practices, tribes are often distrustful of state child welfare agencies and the Federal Government. More pertinent to the tribal response are the negative experiences many tribes have had with decades of federally imposed attempts to assimilate Native Americans into mainstream society. In 1893, compulsory school attendance was mandated for Indian children (Marr, 2002). This education took place in Indian boarding schools. One reason for removing children from their homes was to totally immerse them in the values of mainstream society (Marr, 2002). For Indian children who were students at boarding schools, the curriculum focused on survival skills they would need to live successfully on their own in a white world (Higgins, 2000). The boarding schools were often run by people who hated the children because they were Indian. Many children suffered child abuse in the form of beatings and sexual abuse." Bullshit with same sex marriages! A form of Genocide people wake the hell up!!!

woundedbearcharlton's picture
Submitted by woundedbearcharlton on
unreq by me to and it will remain that way till i die

Janglemuffin Trapnose's picture
Janglemuffin Tr...
Submitted by Janglemuffin Tr... on
I see that there is some hatred and intolerance within native communities as it exists everywhere. Tell me, what exactly, is wicked about homosexuality? The only attempt at a logical argument I read here is that such a union would not produce progeny, thus leading to the diminishment of population through attrition. Does this mean then that a heterosexual couple who chooses not to produce a child for their own reasons is also wicked? Does this mean that if you accept and love one gay couple within your tribe, everyone is going to turn gay, and thus no future generations? If so, it would probably be the only time in human history. I do not think anyone here can say that the there *never* has been any acceptance of this behavior within native cultures of the Americas. the length of human history here is too long and varied for anyone to say that with certainty. Even if it was not widely accepted, does that mean that such a view was correct? ... or if it had a purpose at one time that the perspective is still valid? It is not true to say it is unnatural as homosexuality has been observed in many non-human beings all over the earth. I can post links if you do not believe this to be true. Did the creator make a mistake with these creatures? How does love between two adult humans harm your community?