A history of the Dine Marriage Act and the efforts to stop it from becoming law
by 2005 Diné Coalition for Cultural Preservation
The DCCP utilized the internet to run this campaign – website, online petition letter, writing letters & emails to elected officials. Overwhelming feedback from people is that they were quite amazed that within four weeks, the Dine Coalition was able to convince 14 Council Delegates to vote against the override. The override passed by four votes of the necessary 59 needed to override the President’s veto. The end result of the lobbying campaign, is that the group received national recognition and has resulted in more individuals willing to volunteer their assistance to the DCCP.
Legislation No. 0416-04 was sponsored by Larry Anderson (Fort Defiance). Harry Goldtooth (Coalmine Canyon/Toh Nanees Dizi) made the motion to consider the legislation and Alice White (Chilchinbeto) made the second to the motion.
The Diné Marriage Act amends Title 9 of the Navajo Nation Code – Domestic Relations – by adding language that voids and prohibits marriage between parents and children, including grandparents and grandchildren of every degree, between brother and sisters of one-half degree, as well as whole blood between uncles and nieces, aunts and nephews.
The Act also voids and prohibits marriage between persons of the same sex, and adds language stating that the purposes of marriages on the Navajo Nation are to promote strong families and to preserve and strengthen family values.
Anderson noted that ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are already specifically cited in the Navajo Nation Code in the section in Title 9 that outlines the forms to be used for marriage licenses.
Katherine Benally (Dennehotso) acknowledged that there is opposition to the legislation but said, “We want clarity to occur. We want to address issues based upon the Holy People’s interest. We need to do something now and if we can lay this ground work that would strengthen our traditional values. People need to know where the Navajo Nation stands. We need to speak loud and clear and unequivocally.”
Harriet Becenti (Manuelito/Rock Springs) noted, “Men and woman have been created in a sacred manner. We need to honor this. Times have changed, and we are no longer really teaching our children. We want our people to realize that support is in existence for a man and woman.”
Orlanda Smith-Hodge (Cornfields/Greasewood Springs/Klagetoh/Wide Ruins) also spoke to the issue in support of the legislation. “Many tell us our teachings come from our home. Our elders have taught us much, and unfortunately it appears that we are leaving our traditional values. Mr. Anderson is moving in the spirit of preserving cultural teachings. We must create policy so that when we are challenged, we can have a policy to stand by. Many of our children are not learning our ways. We should teach from this legislation.”
Omer Begay (Cornfields/Greasewood Springs/Klagetoh/Wide Ruins) asked the delegates to support the legislation saying, “We are mainly interested in strengthening policy. Many of our young people have inquired about relations. To date, we do not have a guide for our people. We can clarify with the creation of this policy. Hozhoo is really the push.”
Begay noted that the Council is not promoting discrimination with the passage of the legislation, but using Diné Fundamental Law where the Navajo teaching is that there is a purpose for a man and a woman in marriage.
Lorenzo Curley (Houck/Lupton/Nahata Dziil) said that the legislation raises questions about how the Navajo Nation deals with issues that arise. “The question before us focuses on what we think about the foundation of our society. Are we just going to be swept along?” he asked.
He said that the rest of the world lives under a philosophy of relativism where the highest value is one’s own ego or self, but that the Navajo leaders want to send a message to the young people to continue to respect and live by the Fundamental Laws of the Diné.
“We want to say to them ‘Hold on fast to your society, your roots, your values. We are here to defend the foundation of our society. That’s what is at stake here,” Curley said.
This letter drew attention to council members comments in an April 23, 2005 Gallup Independent article that were Christian influenced. Council Delegate Katherine Benally stated, “God’s will…this is how we want it, this is what we want.” Council Delegate Edward Jim adds, “we get up and pray every morning…we believe in a God who despises same sex marriages.” In the same article Council Delegate Ervin Keeswood, who abstained from the voting of the Diné Marriage Act of 2005, questioned the motivation behind it. He asked, “What’s the driving force behind this? Is there now today a long line of Navajos who want same-sex unions?” He further stated that the legislation, “promotes negativity and something called discrimination.”
The letter also pointed out that the act was discriminatory, did not speak for the entire Navajo Nation, contributed to furthering the assimilation process and therefore did not preserve our culture. It further mentioned that the council should spend time on issues that are more urgently affecting our society.
In the 2 days it was up we received 8 petition letters from members of the Navajo Nation.
The President called it unnecessary legislation about issues that don’t exist. If the Navajo people want to define marriage or take a position about same-sex unions, President Shirley said, he would support their decision to do so through an initiative rather than have 67 members of the Navajo Nation Council decide it for them. To do otherwise is to allow the Navajo government to unnecessarily intrude and interfere into private, personal lives.
Same-sex marriage is a non-issue on Navajoland, he said. So why waste time and resources on it? We have more important issues to address. President Shirley says he strongly supports and encourages family stability, and the need for Navajo husbands and wives to love, care and support each other and their children as a first priority in their busy lives. That, he says, is the basis of personal sovereignty and harmony meant by the Blessing Way teachings.
He further stated, the Diné Marriage Act said nothing about rampant domestic problems across the Navajo Nation and the breakdown of the Navajo family. Instead, the proposed law focused on an issue that doesn’t exist on the Navajo Nation and would generate feelings of disharmony and disunity among the Navajo people, the President said. The legislation veiled a discriminatory aspect in the guise of family values, which goes against the Navajo teaching of non-discrimination and doing no psychological or physical harm, he said.
Online petition letter to Council Delegates focused on the existing Navajo Nation laws currently in place with the Navajo Nation, e.g. Dine Fundamental Law & Navajo Nation Bill of Rights.
The petition received a total of 1114 signatures. http://www.petitiononline.com/DMA2005/petition.html
Dine Coalition for Cultural Preservation website went live. Hosted by NativeOUT.com.
Website features the latest news on the Dine Marriage Act of 2005, provides contact information of all the council delegates and chapters, links to the online petition, contains copies of the Navajo Nation Bill of rights, Fundamental Law of the Dine, and Navajo Nation President and Council press releases on the DMA-05. We also urged people to write letters to the Council, Chapters, President, and Newspapers. www.dinecoalition.com
We were fortunate that Larry Anderson showed up for meeting at the council chambers so we got to speak with him. We asked for his reasons for sponsoring the DMA-05. He kept referring to “family values” and that his constituents requested he do something about issues plaguing the Navajo Nation. According to him the DMA-05 was the solution he came up with.
Sherrick Roanhorse lead the conference. Speakers at conference were Vivian Arviso, Sherrick Roanhorse, Louva Hartwell, and Carrie House.
After the press conference we met Pamela Dempsey of the Gallup Independent. We pointed out how discriminatory the act is, the negative message that it sends to everyone about gay people, that the act was against tradition, and pointed out that DMA-05 has a Christian influence.
To override the council needed 59 votes. They got 62 yea, 14 nay, and 12 that did not vote.
Navajo Nation President Press Releases: