Marriage Equality Is Step in a Much Longer Journey

Gay rights supporters rally outside the Supreme Court as justices hear same-sex marriage case.

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.


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By Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa is a political strategist and writer who has spent more than four decades exploring questions of structural racism, white supremacy, and social justice. Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against authoritarianism, white nationalism, and Christian nationalism. Currently, Scot is co-lead of the 22nd Century Initiative, a project to build the field of resistance to authoritarianism in the U.S.

Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow, an Open Society Foundations Fellow, and a recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Community Leader Award. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition,  and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Scot's political essays, briefings, and other educational media can be found at his newsletter, We Fight the Right at He is a sought after public speaker and educator who provides consultation on campaign and communications strategy, and fundraising.

3 replies on “Marriage Equality Is Step in a Much Longer Journey”

As someone who has fought for LGBT equaliity ever since the Stonewall era, I am of course, celebrating. However, in the back of my mind are the very concerns you wrote about here. And one can go farther; the incredible, spiraling cost of higher education that makes students into debt slaves virtually for life unless they are the scions of the 1%. The boyfriend/fiance of one of my adopted sons is a medical student who will complete his education with a half million in debt. He is a very dedicated and socially conscious young man who would really like to use his skills to bring medical care to the poor but how can he? That kind of story is legion these days. Anyway, for today – Yes – pass the cocktails. I think I’ll have a few!

We owe your generation a lot. You’re a hero, no doubt about it. And, yes, the whole student loan situation begs the question, what does our federal government imagine higher education to be for if the cost of ed is so high, and the loan burden and interest rates are so ridiculous?

Well, in NC I usually need a few cocktails to unwind after a long, long week of dealing with the NCGA, so it’s nice to have a celebratory reason for the drinks;). But while we were excited here, it doesn’t change much for LGBT in practical matters, as we still have the state constitutional amendment banning SSM. The VRA act rule will have more of an impact, as the NCGA plows ahead with the Voter ID bill; I’m guessing this SCOTUS ruling may now make it more difficult to challenge that. And this current GA is nothing if not opportunistic – a win on Voter ID will likely embolden them to cut early voting, despite overwhelming support for it. B/c if they make it harder to vote, they likely believe they won’t have to worry about ANY repercussions at election time for any of their actions. It’s enough to make one drink for solace again….

I still believe this is a great time to be a progressive activist in NC and the South, though. We’re very cognizant of the battles we are facing, and I’m hoping our strategies and coalitions (and, finally, citizen energy) will bring about change.

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