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Effort To Repeal Tribe’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Energized By Court’s Decisions

Monday Jan 6, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico - An effort to repeal the Navajo Nation's same-sex marriage ban has been energized by decisions in some states to allow such unions.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Alray Nelson, organizer of a gay and lesbian rights group advocating a repeal of the tribe's same-sex marriage ban, is looking for new members of the council to introduce a repeal proposal.

Tribal sovereignty lets the Navajo Nation continue enforcement of its own 2005 gay marriage ban.

The nation's ban isn't affected by a New Mexico court decision that legalized marriage for gay and lesbian couples and a subsequent ruling that struck down a ban of same-sex marriage in Utah.

Council member Lorenzo Bates said no one on the council is pushing for a repeal of the law and that constituents aren't raising the issue.

Deswood Tome, an adviser to Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, said the tribal president respects the choice of gay or lesbian Navajos to get married elsewhere, but that the president isn't making a repeal of the tribe's 2005 law a priority.

"I don't believe he's going to advocate for it, because the president has priorities in areas of job creation, business development, infrastructure, housing, education, health and those right now are where the president's focus is," Tome said. "I imagine the same with the Navajo Nation council."

Just one of the current council's 24 members voted against the marriage law in 2005, when the council comprised 88 delegates.

Meanwhile, 10 current council members voted in favor of the law. Nine delegates to the council have been newly elected since the 2005 vote.

Navajo Council Speaker Johnny Naize said the ban is rooted in traditional Navajo values, which for some Navajo families still mean that arranged marriages and scripted interactions between families before a marriage is recognized.

"The tradition with that says that the marriage has to be between a man and woman. That's how we respect our tradition," said Naize, who voted in favor of the same-sex marriage ban in 2005.

That marriage tradition, he said, has nothing to do with discrimination. Unlike Western culture, in which church and state are clearly separated, Navajo culture intertwines government with cultural heritage.

Naize said he doesn't expect the New Mexico ruling will create any pressure for the tribe to reconsider its own marriage laws. Rather, the issue might be reconsidered when Navajo traditional values "subside," he said.

"Ten years, 15 years, I think," Naize said.

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