- Posted June 30, 2013 by
Divided We Fall
The results of the two same-sex marriage cases, Windsor v. U.S. and Hollingsworth v. Perry, are being widely celebrated as important steps towards marriage equality, but these decisions only served to further divide our country. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) codified bigotry into law by preventing the federal government from recognizing all marriages. The Court’s elimination of this law is only a victory for the people living in the 13 states where same-sex marriage is currently legal. (1) True equality should not be determined by state borders.
The Court could have put a final stamp on this issue by partnering the elimination of DOMA with a ruling that states could not ban same-sex marriages. The case against Proposition 8 gave them this opportunity, but once again they punted. Using a technicality, they decided that only the State of California could appeal the lower courts ruling that the Proposition was unconstitutional. Since Governor Brown refused to defend Prop 8, the Court let the original ruling stand. This ruling did nothing for the proponents of same-sex marriage living outside of California.
There are examples of the Federal government using its powers to prevent states from trampling on the rights of minorities. Since 1965 the Voting Act Right has required areas with a history of discrimination to get approval before changing their rules for voting. This law was reauthorized in 2006 with the overwhelming support of congress. (2) In another case of the Court dividing Americans, they ruled in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the majority vetoed the Congress’ judgment and found that the original list of jurisdictions is no longer relevant. They did leave an opening for the current Congress (the same one who cannot even pass a farm bill) to devise an updated list of places where discrimination still takes place. In the meantime, minorities in these areas are on their own.
It is a sad irony of history that at the same time our country was electing our first African-American President, a majority of black and hispanic voters in California were voting for the passage of Proposition 8. (3) It was bad enough that groups that have been historically affected by oppression participated in a form of electoral bigotry. To have it take place against the backdrop of a great achievement in the battle for civil rights lessoned the victory of the day.
In a recent poll, only 28 percent of blacks believed “equal rights for gays are the same as equal rights for African Americans.” (4) To arrive at this conclusion one either has to believe that being gay is a choice or that it is alright to discriminate against certain groups. Personally, I do not remember choosing to be straight, it just seems to be who I am. Current scientific thinking treats sexual orientation no different than other genetic characteristics like eye color. (5) This month, Exodus International, a former provider of “reparative therapy,” closed it’s doors after it’s president declared last year that “99.9% of conversion therapy participants do not experience any change to their sexuality.” (6)
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia stated that “to defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements.” (7) This uses the same word play that is often used by opponents of same-sex marriage and would have us believe that inclusiveness somehow hurts those of us in heterosexual marriages. As parodied on the Daily Show, this ruling does not force us to get “gay married” at the risk of having “Obama’s thugs taking us to jail.” (8) DOMA did far more than condemn, demean and humiliate those who happened to be in love with someone of the same gender, it barred them from receiving the same benefits as those in the majority. This is defined as discrimination.
It was not so long ago in our country’s history that interracial marriages were also considered to be illegal. Even today, 14% of Americans disapprove of the practice and they are more likely to be Southerners, Republicans, conservatives, those in lower education levels or the elderly. (9) While 53% of Americans support same-sex marriage, 56% of Republicans do not. (10) Maryland is the only southern state to have already legalized same-sex marriage. 82% of conservatives and 67% of the elderly voted for Proposition 8. (11)
I cut my teeth in political activism preventing Operation Rescue from using physical force to shut down abortion clinics. Included in the coalition of groups that worked towards this effort was ACT-UP, whose primarily focused on advocacy for AIDS patients. As predominantly gay men they were probably the least affected group in the fight over abortion rights except for they recognized the commonality of the opponents of both abortion and their cause.
The setbacks the Court dealt to minorities this week along with the less than total victory for gay rights shows that the fight over civil rights for all is not finished. The process will be more successful if the broadest possible coalition can find a way to work together.