To the joy of many and the dismay of some, The US Supreme Court finally struck down DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and for all us Californians, dismissed Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. For those of us who value equality in all its forms, this was a huge victory, but it came with an interesting and troubling caveat: the rolling back of a key component of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965.
Essentially, Section 4 of the 1965 VRA required permission from Washington to change certain kinds of voting-related legislation. The purpose of this mechanism was to prevent the voter discrimination that was common in certain states (mostly in the South). Certain things, like literacy tests, strict eligibility requirements, and other regulations, were historically used to prevent or make it difficult for African-Americans to vote, thus maintaining the status quo.
With the voter turn-out of African-Americans on the rise and an African-American President, the Supreme Court ruled that this VRA component was no longer necessary. While times have certainly changed, there should still be some oversight in places that have long histories of voter discrimination. So while the rights of some are ensured, the rights of others are put in jeopardy.
In her blog Black Girl Dangerous, Mia McKenzie points out the problematic nature of this change for queer people of color and queer people who are also members of ethnic minority communities. It may appear that the defeat of DOMA is a great win for equality, and in many ways it is, but the battle is not over. For example, there is still a lot of fighting to do for transgender rights.
So as mindful and active members of our various communities, we need to be aware of the potential impacts of even beneficial legislation such as the dismissal of DOMA. We need to be critical even of organizations that purport to fight for equality. We must always ask – are they truly fighting for equality? Is this a truly inclusive organization?
An excellent example of what I mean is the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). It’s hard not to smile when you see their widely-recognized equals sign plastered on car bumpers and street signs, but are they really fighting for equality. Take some time to peruse this article by a past colleague of mine, Karlee Johnson, who critiques some HRC practices.
When we speak out, we need to make sure we’re speaking out for true equality. Not just for gay white men, but for the queer latinas and transgender people. We must remember that the politics of inclusion can also be exclusionary.
While I certainly think the defeat of DOMA and the dismissal of Prop 8 are steps in the right direction, it’s still important to maintain a critical eye.
For queer critique of Marriage Equality and other issues relating to the politics of inclusion, see Against Equality (click on the name for Marriage Equality issues or on the link on the sidebar for the main page).