Letter: Navajo Nation's marriage act is discriminatory

Alray N. Nelson
The Daily Times


The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a historic decision in favor of marriage equality, making it so that same-sex couples will soon have the freedom to marry and be treated with respect for their marriages across all 50 states. This has little to no impact towards how we treat same-sex couples residing on the Navajo Nation because of the discriminatory Diné Marriage Act.

Our Nation has a long march towards equality but we can only move forward. Although the Coalition for Navajo Equality is pleased with the court decision reaffirming our fundamental right to marry who we love, the Diné Marriage Act is still the law of the land. Yet, we believe this victory provides us a foundation to also seek action to its direct repeal. Let me be clear — gay and lesbian Navajo couples only want to be treated with fairness and respect by their Nation.

President Russell Begaye and the Navajo Nation Council now have a real opportunity to take a stand and be champions for our equality. Their support will end 10 years of discrimination towards our gay and lesbian couples and their families. Discrimination that does not allow my partner and me to jointly file for a home-site lease so we could build a home alongside our grandparents. Discrimination that does not allow us to access the same health insurance or seek Medicare assistance when we're both elderly men. The same discrimination that denies us the right to jointly adopt children so that we may raise a family.

It is this law upheld by the Navajo government that tells couples like us that everything we represent is "foreign" and that our marriage together is somehow not "Navajo-enough." All that my partner and I are fighting for is your acceptance and for complete fairness under Navajo law.

The impact of the Supreme Court ruling has yet to be seen for our Nation. What is clear is that around 90 percent of the Navajo Nation's annual budget derives from federal funding with specific policies and conditions on how they are spent. It would be hard for Navajo leaders to argue for the Diné Marriage Act when such an outdated law would be null and void in the surrounding 50 states. Federal funding impacts tribal policies and its laws.

We have to have a meaningful conversation about our future. Now is the time for us to repeal this law.