Same Sex Marriage vs. Voting Rights Act: What’s More Important this Supreme Court Term?

Supreme_Court_US_2010I was considering writing one of the usual tales as the Supreme Court considers same sex marriage — how my older daughter came out to me, her feelings, my feelings, my husband’s feelings, family reaction. But none of that is especially new or even all that interesting except to us. Our own very liberal views, the progressive/liberal nature of our community make our story devoid of much in the way of drama, suffering or pain, unlike the life experiences of so many other LGBTQ people.

I’ll be listening with great interest to what happens over the next couple of days as the Supreme Court hears arguments on California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. After all, it affects me and mine. In addition, I have been outspoken in my support for gay rights for decades — this has been a subject of great interest to me before I had a personal stake in it. So the arguments from the lawyers and the comments from the judges will be fascinating and at times, I’m sure, infuriating.

However, whatever happens this week or when the Supreme Court makes its decision will not change the direction of the country. If the majority of the court refuses to rule against Proposition 8 or strike down DOMA, it will be the last gesture of a fading bigotry in this country. It means there will continue to be suffering and unfairness for longer, but not forever because so much of the next generation doesn’t really care about anyone’s sexual orientation.

And realizing that, I planned to discuss instead the great importance of a case that came earlier in this Supreme Court term — the Voting Rights Act. I’ve been far more worried about that decision than I have about the decision on Proposition 8 or DOMA. I believe that if the Court strikes down part or all of the Voting Rights Act, that decision, unlike the one on marriage equality, will change the direction of the country and we will be headed toward an undemocratic, white (mainly male) conservative minority-ruled country, a country that will not protect the rights of anyone, gay, straight, or whatever.

However, this is when having a member of your family who is gay can shift your perspective to a more in-depth understanding of what the current case means to the gay community.

My older daughter, queer and proud, is not all that interested in the marriage issue. She said she was moved by the passage of the referendum upholding marriage equality in our state of Maryland primarily because she knew that we, her parents, were so invested in it: attending rallies, pasting on bumper stickers, and volunteering at the local headquarters for marriage equality. But it’s not marriage itself that’s the issue for her, it’s the human rights aspect.

She pointed out that where we live in the suburbs of Washington D.C. and where she lives in Brooklyn, NY, sexual orientation is not much of an issue. Even among some relatively new immigrant groups in Brooklyn, she tells me, there is acceptance, perhaps grudging but still acceptance, of children in the family not being straight. But outside of these enclaves are many areas of the country where this is not the case. The bigotry and discrimination in those areas, laws like the ones that prohibit gay people from adopting in states like Florida, drive members of the gay community out of those places, drive them to pick up and move their entire lives to more inviting locations. What this means is that there are many places in our country in which a child who is questioning his/her sexual orientation might have a harder time finding role models or allies, might not find confidantes or an understanding ear. Places in which such a young person has no champion to help them deal with the endemic bigotry and ugliness in their hometown.

And that’s a major reason why striking down DOMA is so important. If marriage to the one you love becomes a guaranteed right, then even in those areas of the country thick with homophobia there will be some protection, some hope of change for the confused and coming-of-age.

So I no longer view the Voting Rights Act as being more important than striking down DOMA, instead I see both cases as part of the same over-arching issue. In the case of the Voting Rights Act, we need to protect and continue the progress we’ve made toward human rights — to protect against deterioration of those rights. In the case of Proposition 8 and DOMA, we need to move on to the next step of establishing that differences in people’s personal lives can’t be used as justification to deny rights and opportunities.

Contributor Marti Teitelbaum lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She is the mother of two high-energy girls (a twenty-something future radical social worker and a 12-year-old with teen-hood aspirations) and is married to a psychiatrist who devotes half his work life to a child mental health clinic. For almost 20 years, Marti used her degree in public health to work for the Children’s Defense Fund, producing most of their numbers on children’s health, disability, health insurance, Medicaid, and immunization. She has always been a political junkie and a fiber-holic and now, for the first time in her life, has the time to indulge in both of these addictions. Politics and weaving have a lot in common: both take a lot of thought and preparation and both have a lot of complicated entanglements. But the difference is that weaving calms the soul and produces something useful and potentially beautiful. Politics doesn’t.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

  • I live in the state of South Carolina, a beautiful state with a quite diverse history. It is also one of those places where to be a moderate is to be too liberal, where most local and state election seats are gained completely unopposed by any party but the GOP. A state that is quite happy to have voting requirements and restrictions on districting, polling rules, etc. lifted, and a state that has a sizable and growing diverse ethnic population.

    This state will likely be one of the last to accept marriage equality, fairness and complete openness in voting practices, a choice of candidates at the polls from more than one party. We have a lot of problems, including one of the highest rate of new AIDS cases in the nation, a horrifically high rate of domestic violence, a lower than national average salary rate, underfunded schools (despite a state lottery), a crumbling road system (one of the largest state maintained in the nation, one of the lowest funded)

    Choice at the polls does really matter for South Carolinians. We need good representation, and we need to ensure that all who want to vote, and have met the simple voting guidelines such as proof of residence, and proof of citizenship, such as an already obtained voter’s registration card one gets at the DMV, can do so in a fair, timely manner.

    • Marti Teitelbaum

      It’s ironic that a large section of our country, a section that includes your state, is full of people who don’t trust the federal government (not that I do completely either!) and think we need smaller government. But these are the same people that want government to restrict the rights of others, whether it be the right to vote, the right to marry, or the right for people to make their own reproductive decisions.
      A double irony is that many of these states are the ones that pay less into the federal government than they get back in terms of help. They need that federal help but are unwilling to admit it.

      • Last year the state spent a nice chunk of change trying to prove that there was voter fraud, .ie dead people voting, people voting twice, people not living in the state registered. Their findings? Nada, nutting, Zip! Yet the push for stronger voter restrictions persisted.

        Part of it is a fear, and I kid you not, that illegal immigrants will vote, thus screwing up the election. South Carolina has a 5% Hispanic population, a 27% African American and a 66% white. So the math don’t add up.

        • Marti Teitelbaum

          We need more people like you in states like yours! Thank you for your terrific comments.

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