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Will the Navajo Nation Legalize Same-Sex Marriage?

Will the Navajo Nation Legalize Same-Sex Marriage?

Will the Navajo Nation Legalize Same-Sex Marriage?

The possibility of nationwide marriage equality reignites debate


Photo: Courtesy of Indigenous Action Media / Wikimedia Commons

The Supreme Court has once again taken up marriage equality, and it looks like they're set to decide once and for all whether same-sex couples in the United States have a right to marriage. Hints by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and even Clarence Thomas have given hope to same-sex marriage activists that the outcome this spring or summer will be nationwide legalization. But such a verdict would not affect all Americans. It won't affect those living under Native American Tribal jurisdiction, for example, because each of the 566 tribes are sovereign entities.

Currently, 22 tribes recognize same-sex marriages. The Navajo Nation -- one of the largest, with the largest tribal territory in the country -- is not one of them, but there are strong pushes from within the community to change that. Ben Shelly, president of the Navajo Nation, says that he favours a repeal of the 2005 Dine Marriage Act, which prohibits same-sex unions on the reservation, and would support such a move if adopted by the Navajo Nation Council.

Two presidential contenders in the upcoming election, Chris Deschene and Joe Shirley Jr., have also voiced their support for same-sex marriage. Speaking with the New York Times, Shirley, a former president, said, “Our culture dictates acceptance. They are part of our family,” he said of young gay Navajos. “They are our children, and we don’t need to be partial.”

Of course, there are voices of opposition within the nation, but pro-equality advocates have been gaining momentum. Young queer Navajos are increasingly joining the fight for justice, like trans director Sydney Freeland with her film Drunktown’s Finest, which follows three Navajo teens and was a hit at Sundance. Such a diversification of debate shows that even with a positive decision from the Supreme Court later this year, there remains a lot of work to be done.

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