Bill legalizing same-sex marriage on Navajo Nation voted down by first committee, but proceeds

Bill will advance to three more committees before going to the tribal council

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The bill to amend tribal law to allow same-sex couples to marry on the Navajo Nation and extend full marriage rights faced opposition when it went before its first tribal council committee this week.

To attain equality for same-sex couples, the bill proposes repealing a section of the Diné Marriage Act, a 2005 law that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman and prohibits polygamy and incest. The proposal is specific to repealing the same-sex marriage portion of the 2005 law.

Delegates Carl Slater and Charlaine Tso voted in favor of the legislation while delegates Paul Begay, Pernell Halona and Edison Wauneka opposed it.

Since the opposing vote received greater support, the bill received a "do not pass" recommendation from the committee to the tribal council, where it heads after consideration by three additional committees.

"If the government is going to be involved in marriage then everyone needs to be equal. It's as simple as that," Slater said.

Participants in the Diné Pride Cruise drive pass the Navajo Nation Council chamber on June 26, 2020 in Window Rock, Arizona.

Navajo Nation same-sex marriage proponents say its a matter of fairness

The bill has been applauded by tribal members who have advocated for marriage equality for years and denounced by others who say it is an affront to western religious values and teachings.

The legislation became eligible for consideration by committees under the Navajo Nation Council, after it was introduced in March by Delegate Eugene Tso.

Tso explained his reasons for sponsoring the bill in remarks on April 13 to the Health, Education and Human Services Committee.

When a baby is born, everyone is joyful but when the baby grows up and talks about their homosexuality, they face criticism and they can be bullied and teased by family members, friends and community members, he said in the Navajo language.

These negative actions toward LGBTQ and Two-Spirit people are unacceptable, he said then added it causes some to harm themselves or causes them to cut ties with family.

"We're all human. We got five fingers," Tso said.

By legalizing same-sex marriage, we can open the door to welcoming back them and end discrimination against our family members, he explained.

"Just be one. This is all I ask of you, my people, all over. When are we going to stop discriminating? It hurts them," Tso said.

Delegates Eugene Tso, left, and Pernell Halona, both members of the Navajo Nation Council's Health, Education and Human Service Committee, are seen in this file photo from June 2019.

A variety of views were expressed by Navajo Nation tribal members

While the Navajo government doesn't recognize same-sex marriage, federal and state governments do and many same-sex couples have obtained marriage licenses through those laws, Wauneka said.

He also cited religious objections to such unions.

"They're going to continue to do that because counties and states and federal government is allowing it now," Wauneka said. "As the Navajo Nation, I feel we shouldn't be a part of that but that doesn't mean we're going to put a stop to it. It's already going on."

Begay opposed the bill because legalizing same-sex marriage is a matter for the Navajo people to decide, not tribal lawmakers.

Approximately 100 comments that support or oppose the bill have been submitted by tribal members as of April 15.

Begay further explained in the Navajo language that he accepts his family members who are openly gay and lesbian.

"I give them a hug. I don't think of them in any other way," Begay said then spoke again in favor of the matter to go before the Navajo people.

Charlaine Tso said she supports the bill and asked fellow lawmakers not to view it from a religious perspective but as an opportunity to treat everyone equally.

"We talk about how we honor ourselves as Diné people, so let's really show the world who we are in unity. That we respect, accept and love one another," she said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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