Every month in editing a newsletter for our local PFLAG group, I write articles about national and global news. This past month has been filled with the aftermath—and sometimes backlash—to the Supreme Court decision that LGBT people should have equal rights in marriage. The media frenzy began when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-gender couples should have the right to marry in all 50 states. Here are some of the issues that emerged from that decision.
Of course, conservatives were traumatized by the possibility that LGBT people could get married. Judges refused to marry same-gender couples or said that they were too busy. A Texas judge required everyone who he married, LGBT or straight, to sign a document stating that he was opposed to the decision and that no one should even mention marriage equality in his presence. Some clerks decided to quit rather than issue marriage licenses. One of them refused until threatened with a lawsuit.
The three members of Dent County (MO) commission unanimously voted to lower the flags “below halfstaff” at the county courthouse once a month for a year in order to “mourn” the legalization of marriage equality. Within a day they had to back down because of protests from the population of 15,000 for its violation to flag protocol and its bigotry. Out of this discrimination came a positive action from Jacob Wilson (right), a gay alumnus of Salem High School, who establishing a scholarship fund to support LGBT students and allies.
Other good things have happened since the decision. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch confirmed that married same-sex couples will have access to full federal benefits after the Supreme Court ruling to legalize marriage equality. Prior to the SCOTUS decision, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration were required to deny full benefits for married same-gender couples living in states that did not recognize marriage equality.
One segment of the U.S. population not covered by the Supreme Court ruling that legalizes marriage equality is Native Americans living on reservations. The decision does not extend to sovereign Indian Nations because the fate of that judgment lies in Congress. Unless Congress passes legislation to require same-gender marriage on Indian Nations—a highly unlikely act—tribes create and enforce their own laws governing marriage. Many tribes have changed their laws to legalize marriage equality or ruled that they will follow the rules of the state where reservations are located, but ten tribes, including the two largest ones of Cherokee Nation and the Navajo, have acts that prohibit same-gender marriage. The Navajo changed Navajo law accepting same-gender unions when they passed the Diné Marriage Act of 2005 in response to former President George W. Bush’s call for amendments to state constitutions banning same-sex unions.
Alray Nelson (left), an openly gay man living on the Navajo reservation in Arizona with his partner Brennan Yonnie, is working to change the 2005 act because same-gender couples are denied the rights of married heterosexual couples in issues such as housing, property rights, and custody of children. Many contemporary LGBTQ Navajo talk about historical accounts of same-gender unions and even the prominence of the nádleehí–third-gender people–in Navajo creation stories. Nelson said, “When I’m reading comments from Navajo leaders, it seems like the majority of them came from the boarding-school era, and so everything that they were taught from that time of assimilation is so full of misunderstanding, fear and hate for our own people. It seems like the U.S. government did a very good job at training our Navajo men and women–our brothers and sisters–to be their own oppressor.”
Bans on LGBT marriage is not the only problem on Nelson’s reservation. LGBT bullying and teen suicides are high, and the Navajo Nation has seen an unprecedented spike in new HIV diagnoses because the people lack information about the disease.
Navajo history includes Hastiin Klah (1867-1937), weaver and medicine man who embodied both male and female spirits as a nádleehí Navajo. Farther back are drawings, photographs, oral histories, and language that advocates say is evidence LGBT Navajo tribe members were once accepted. Anthropologist W. W. Hill noted Navajo nádleehí indivudals were associated with wealth and that the families they were born in to were considered fortunate. But that began to change. The change came when the U.S. ordered Native Americans to attend U.S. schools and accept European religion.
Marriage equality is just the beginning of LGBT rights in the United States: we need laws and rulings to give us equality in credit, housing, employment, lodging, jury service, federal financial assistance, education, etc. Legislators such as Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) are introducing bills to restrict federal funding to municipalities that don’t comply with the ruling. Other legislators, including Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, are behind a bill to stop LGBT discrimination through an update to the Civil Rights of 1964. Pocan is also one of the Democratic congressional members who introduced Restore Honor to Service Members Act that would help service members discharged from the military to correct the military record, reflecting their honorable service.
Marriage equality opponents who struggle to stop same-gender marriage through amending the Constitution should realize that only one amendment to that document took away rights—the 18th Amendment starting prohibition—and it lasted only 13 years before being overturned by another constitutional amendment. The history of the U.S. Constitution has been to give rights, not take them away. The so-called First Amendment Defense Act on allowing discrimination through “religious freedom” has a restrictive nature rather than opening up rights to everyone and should not be allowed.