Same-sex marriage is still illegal for many Native Americans

Last month, the Supreme Court declared that the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection clause prohibits states from banning same-sex marriage. However, that ruling didn’t apply to the 566 federally-recognized Native American tribes in the United States. This being the case, same-sex marriage remains illegal in at least eleven tribes, while twelve have actively affirmed marriage equality.

The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma goes as far as to prohibit both marriage and divorce for persons of the same gender. LGBT Seminoles can’t get married, and if they do they can’t ever split.

As Jorge Rivas writes in Fusion:

The second most populous tribe, the Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation, passed its law banning gay marriage in 2004.

The Navajo, who count 300,000 members and to whom smaller tribes often look for direction, passed a law in 2005 explicitly banning gay marriage. It followed in the footsteps of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law recognizing marriage as between a man and a woman that was signed by Bill Clinton in 1996, according to Native American LGBT advocates and historians.

Rivas goes on to note that Native Americans have traditionally held a much more fluid understanding of sexuality than these laws might suggest. This means that, for LGBT activists in Native American communities, appeals to repeal laws that go against “traditional” marriage are, in this context, appeals for a more inclusive recognition of the institution. As Alray Nelson, a Navajo LGBT activist, told Rivas:

Depiction of the Sac and Fox Nation's Dance to the Berdache, celebrating the two-spirit person, via Wikimedia Commons

Depiction of the Sac and Fox Nation’s Dance to the Berdache, celebrating the two-spirit person, via Wikimedia Commons

There were same-sex couples from our creationist story all the way to today. Those relationships were there, they were recognized, and they had every right to be productive members of our community…

…If they repeal the [Diné Marriage Act] it brings it back to what our traditional values used to be. They’re using the whites man’s language, a foreign way of speaking, to redefine something that was already sacred and defined, we didn’t need to redefine it at all.

Momentum appears to be building for LGBT equality in Native American communities, which now stand as some of the last places in America where marriage equality is not in effect.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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3 Responses to “Same-sex marriage is still illegal for many Native Americans”

  1. Outspoken1 says:

    Some other tribes used the analogy of ‘two spirits’ and left non-traditional couples alone. http://www.firstpeople.us/articles/the-two-spirit-people-of-indigenous-north-americans.html

  2. Indigo says:

    Amerindians acting like victims of Euro-American colonization are quite frankly even more exploited than they think. There needs to be a wake up call but no one seems able to find the proper note to sound it on. The shamans know better but they are silenced by the fear White Christianity has instilled into the timid souls who haven’t been able to reclaim their ethnic identity. They conflate their identity with superstitions learned at church. It’s a shame as well as clear evidence of the extent of the systematic debasement American Indian culture.

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