The Supreme Court struck down Bill Clinton’s discriminatory and down right offensive Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Their decision was just, and it was a long time coming. The first words out of my mouth when I heard it was “about f**king time!” followed shortly by, “is it too early for cocktails?”
Moments like this come few and far between. But even as we celebrate, we ought not overlook the fact that DOMA fell in a week when the Supreme Court also effectively neutered the Voting Rights Act. So even as rights are expanding for same sex couples, one of the pillars of African American civil rights is deeply threatened. And African American rights aren’t all that’s at stake. The voting rights of Latino immigrants are threatened in many of the same states covered by the Voting Rights Act and not a few that aren’t. And voter suppression efforts may soon expand to include Asian immigrants in the wake of a national election in which more than 70% of Asian Americans voted for Barack Obama.
We should note as well that SCOTUS also overturned a federal appeals court ruling upholding affirmative action at the University of Texas. The case has been sent back to the lower court which has been charged with applying “strict scrutiny” to the program before ruling again. And the Texas case isn’t the only challenge to affirmative action on the horizon. There are others, and all in opposition to a program that has been deemed legal only because it treats race as a qualification because colleges and universities with affirmative action programs have decided that diverse student bodies are better learning environments. I may be stating the obvious here, but those learning environments are dominated by whites.
This is by no means the original structure and intent of affirmative action. Yet, even in this watered down form, affirmative action is under attack.
So, if you’re black or brown, poor and gay, the possibility that you may enjoy the right to marry is expanding at the same time that your right to vote and is being threatened, and the most effective program we know of to provide you with an opportunity to climb out of poverty by getting an education is under siege. We need to ask ourselves, among these rights, which are more fundamental to a functioning democracy?
A democratic society fails to live up to that name if it doesn’t guarantee equal treatment, protection, and opportunity for every citizen. And as long as the democratic rights of any group is threatened, the rights of all of us are at risk.
Okay, now pass the cocktail shaker. The party is on. But the fight isn’t over yet, not by a long shot.