Navajo Nation Council overrides veto of same-sex marriage ban
Gay rights activist thinks power struggle between council, president played a part
Published Thursday, 09-Jun-2005 in issue 911
ALBUQUERQUE (AP) – The Navajo Nation Tribal Council voted to override a veto of a law that bans same-sex marriage on the nation’s largest Native American reservation.
The council voted 62-14, with 12 delegates abstaining or absent, on June 3 to override the decision by Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. last month to veto the Dine Marriage Act of 2005. Dine is the Navajos’ name for themselves.
The act defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman and prohibits plural marriages as well as marriage between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, brothers and sisters and other close relatives.
“In the traditional Navajo ways, gay marriage is a big ‘no, no,’” said Kenneth Maryboy, a delegate from Montezuma Creek, Utah, who voted in favor of the ban. “It all boils down to the circle of life. We were put on the Earth to produce offspring.”
Gay activists, who argued that such a law imposes a western Christian perspective on a culture that historically has been tolerant and respectful of homosexuals, expressed disappointment in the vote.
“My feeling is that the reason they overrode the president’s veto is that they have a huge animosity toward the president,” said Percy Anderson, a gay rights organizer who started a Web site and petition to lobby against the marriage act.
Anderson, who previously held an elected office in the tribe’s Manuelito, N.M., chapter, said he believes the council is locked in a power struggle with the Navajo Nation president.
“They want to show the president that they are the governing body,” Anderson said. “It has to do with a mentality the council has, and it’s been building for years. The more they do this, however, the more they promote an image to Navajo voters that will ultimately get them replaced and elected out of office.”
Maryboy said he doubts there will be a political backlash for his vote. He said his constituents overwhelming oppose same-sex marriage and generally disapprove of same-sex relationships.
“My constituents told me to vote against approving same-sex marriage,” Maryboy said. “My supporters told me to stay firmly against it, especially the ministers who join people in marriage. They said, ‘What are we going to do if two people of the same sex want us to marry them?’ They’re really concerned about that.”
Nevertheless, leaders of groups such as Native Out in Phoenix, Ariz., and the Dine Coalition in Albuquerque contended their intense lobbying efforts in the last month had positive effects. A discussion was sparked across the reservation about what it means to be gay in Navajo tradition and they managed to convince 14 members who originally voted for the Dine Marriage Act to reverse their stance.
“Today, we were actually only four votes over from the 59 needed to override the veto,” Anderson said.
He praised the delegates who changed their votes.
“We feel they voted their conscience,” Anderson said. “We’re grateful to them for doing that.”
Delegate Larry Anderson of Fort Defiance, Ariz., the author of the Dine Marriage Act, did not return numerous phone calls. But in a statement he released immediately after the president’s veto, he said Navajos were saddened that Shirley vetoed the marriage act.
“The president’s abuse of the veto power necessitates the re-evaluation of the president’s veto power,” Larry Anderson said.
He also sponsored the legislation to overturn Shirley’s decision. Supporters of the marriage act said the goal of the law is to promote family values and preserve marriage as a sacred union between a man and a woman.