DOMA ruling is no victory for civil rights

JUL 2, 2013, 5:00 AM 

DOMA ruling is no victory for civil rights

There’s a strange political dichotomy that I see from some on the political left relating to last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decisions overturning the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Section 4B of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Many celebrated the abolishment of the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, which keeps same sex marriage legal in multiple states (including the District of Columbia) while paving the way for its potential legalization in other states like Michigan. Others, however, cried foul over the ruling against 4B, which holds in place voter identification laws – which disproportionately block access to polls for people of color.

Both decisions, however, are couched in the problematic notion of states’ rights.

Historically, the idea of states’ rights was pushed by the Confederacy. The main issue of those in Dixie was the choice to have legalized slavery. After Reconstruction, southern states then instituted Jim Crow laws – including voter suppression laws – which deprived blacks and Latinos of equal access and protection.

Hence, federal laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which were instituted to protect prevailing national interests – thus trumping popular state votes which had disenfranchised minorities. This is why core issues relating to civil rights cannot, ultimately, be left to state discretion.

Thankfully, we have evolved as a nation with the help of federal measures.

We no longer have blatant Jim Crow laws such as “whites only” restrooms or bans on interracial marriage. That’s not to say that all groups in America enjoy full sociopolitical equality. Hopefully, we can one day be that “more perfect union” mentioned in the Constitution.

But back to the dichotomy of those celebrating the DOMA decision: It appears that the celebration is based on a selfish vision of equality.

The legal justification against DOMA is rooted in a notion of states’ rights that has perpetuated inequality. Perhaps this is lost on many who have led the LGBT movement – the majority of whom have enjoyed white privilege.

I cannot celebrate any ruling from our high court which leads to the disenfranchisement of people of color. Gay white men still enjoyed their white privilege – freedom from mass incarceration, racial profiling at airports, crossing the border, etc. – prior to DOMA’s defeat. Maybe this point was lost on those celebrating last week’s DOMA ruling, but this point was not lost to some of the activists that I communicate with in black and brown communities.

Some will say that I’m dwelling too much on past racial injustices and that I’m playing the race card. We have a history in America of racism that still has contemporary implications. I wish this was not the case.

In order to bring about true equality in America, we need more honest conversations and sincere work towards changing structures of inequality – not celebrations of an isolated victory within a framework that may perpetuate structural racism.

In overturning of DOMA and leaving same sex marriage to the states, I see a long term loss for civil rights.


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