Victory With a Grain of Salt

Timothy Bidon Jun 27, 2013

This week of Supreme Court decisions has left my head in a whirlwind. As a gay man, I rejoiced with much of the LGBTQ community after seeing a leap of progress with the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as well as a ruling on California’s Proposition 8 that will most likely allow same-sex couples in the state to marry again. But it’s critical that we remember that just the day before, the Supreme Court ruled to gut the Voting Rights Act, which has been in place and renewed by Congress since 1965.

The Supreme Court wore two faces this week, extending legal equality to one marginalized community while taking away protections for another. People of color still face very real discrimination at the ballot box, and as much as I want to rejoice in the incredible liberation I feel as a gay individual, I can’t help but think about how far we still have to go.

As I joined hundreds of other people in front of the Stonewall Inn on Wednesday, I felt incredible pride in my identity and in being a part of a larger LGBTQ community. To be celebrating this victory in front of what many call the birthplace of the gay rights movement gave me a sense that I was a part of history.

Edie Windsor, the 84-year-old widowed lesbian who brought the DOMA case to the Supreme Court, addressed the crowd. She lauded the decision as a “new beginning” and a sign that full marriage equality in the United States is closer than it has ever been.

These remarks were met with cheers and an ocean of waving rainbow flags. One of the women in the crowd, Isabel Galupo, was thrilled about what this meant for her relationship. “I’m really excited to be here. This just means great things for my future as a queer woman,” said Galupo. This ruling entitles her to the same federal rights as heterosexual spouses if she decides to marry her girlfriend, Devin.

I shared in her excitement. One of the biggest changes that the DOMA repeal has brought is that bi-national same-sex couples can now use marriage as a path to citizenship for one of the partners. Having a boyfriend that lives overseas, I can now imagine a future in which he’d be able to share in my citizenship if we got married.

But I still hold some reservations. The dissenting opinion written by conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia includes hateful language and condemns the normalization of “homosexual sodomy.” Other political figures have voiced their disapproval, including Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, who lamented the decisions and declared that the organization will ramp up its efforts to keep marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Alongside this, it was only a few weeks ago in late May that New Yorkers saw two assaults targeted at LGBTQ individuals: the killing of Mark Carson and the subway beating of Kevin Kiadii. These attacks brought the total number of LGBTQ hate crimes in the city for the month of May to 11. The DOMA and Prop 8 rulings are a huge step forward, but by no means should they erase these facts.

And we can’t allow the DOMA decision to overshadow the rights stripped away by Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act.  In the majority opinion issued by Chief Justice John Roberts, he claimed that the Voting Rights Act was outdated:

Voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that. The question is whether the Act’s extraordinary measures, including its disparate treatment of the States, continue to satisfy constitutional requirements.

Nine states, mainly in the south, will no longer need preclearance from the federal government to change their voting laws. Many have argued that this will allow discriminatory gerrymandering and voter ID laws to thrive.

In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg argued that the majority decision ignored the reason behind the Voter Rights Act being enacted in the first place: 

The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective. The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclear¬ance is no longer needed…With that belief, and the argument derived from it, history repeats itself.

How many LGBTQ people of color who gained recognition with the DOMA repeal will now face discrimination in the voting booth? Why didn’t the Supreme Court see that these issues intersect?

This is not to say that the DOMA victory is not far-reaching. At the rally outside of the Stonewall Inn, the crowd was a mix of all colors, ages and genders, signaling the decision’s scope and the wide variety of people it affects.

As a gay individual, I’m vacillating between celebration and disappointment. Michelangelo Signorile, editor of the Gay Voices section of the Huffington Post, expressed similar sentiments: 

It's amazing to witness the most powerful court in the land strike down a law that made you a second-class citizen. I found myself getting emotional this morning, something I didn't expect but which attested to how long a struggle this has been … The overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) after this week's other major court decisions is not indicative of this court's embrace of civil rights as much as it reveals the precariousness of all our rights. It would be at our own peril not to keep in mind how rights can be rolled back on a whim.

So in this time of celebration, let’s take this victory with a grain of salt.  We should remain proud of the incredible progress made, but never turn a blind eye to other forms of oppression that still run rampant. The repeal of DOMA is just one step on a much longer journey our society has yet to take.

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