The Supreme Court's historic decision in Obergefell v. Hodges brought marriage equality to all 50 states — but it turns out it did nothing for the people of Navajo Nation and the hundreds of other Native American tribes recognized by the US.
In a video by the New York Times's Monica Almelda, Navajo Alray Nelson in February discussed the work of trying to legalize same-sex marriage in his tribe, which prohibits same-sex couples from marrying through a 2005 tribal law called the Diné Marriage Act.
As Fusion's Jorge Rivas found, the fight continues today. The Supreme Court's decision didn't change Navajo law, because the 566 tribes recognized by the US are sovereign entities that aren't covered by the Constitution. So Nelson and his partner, Brennen Yonnie, could marry in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico — the states that border the Navajo Nation — but not on the reservation itself.
The two largest Native American tribes still ban same-sex marriages
The Navajo Nation, the largest Native American tribe, is joined by the Cherokee Nation, the second largest, in prohibiting same-sex marriages. Each tribe has about 300,000 citizens, according to the Times's Julie Turkewitz.
At least 12 tribes allow same-sex couples to marry, according to advocacy group Freedom to Marry. The Coquille Tribe in Oregon became the first to do so in 2009, five years after Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to wed.
But many smaller tribes look to the Cherokee and Navajo for guidance, so the two largest tribes' bans may be impacting people in other reservations, as well.
"Brennan and I made the agreement several years ago that him and I would not talk about or even plan getting married until this law here at home was repealed," Nelson previously told the Times. "The gay and lesbian community here at home is here to stay. I'm not going anywhere. Brennan's not going anywhere. Because this is our home, too."