Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Supreme Court Gets Two Right, One Wrong

Sun rising over the Supreme Court
Great news!

The Supreme Court ruled this morning that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. DOMA denied federal benefits to same sex married couples. The high court established that this law "singles out a class of persons deemed by a state entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty."

Simple enough. The Justice Department had already stopped upholding this anti-gay, discriminatory law and now it's been struck down.

You cannot give benefits and rights to one group of married people in this country while denying the same benefits and rights to another group of married, tax-paying Americans.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that the federal law, passed by Congress in 1996, violates the US Constitution's guarantee of equal protection.

This does not mean that all 50 states must now enact marriage equality laws. But it does ensure that same sex couples who are legally married in any US state must receive equal treatment under federal law, including over 1,000 benefits that other married couples receive, with tax benefits and Social Security benefits among the two biggest.

So, for example, a same sex couple who is legally married in, say, Massachusetts, does not necessarily have to be recognized in a far rightwing, backward, yahoo state like Texas, Oklahoma or Mississippi. But it does have to recognized and granted all rights by the federal government.

Children of same sex married couples will now know that their families are as valid as any other.

Right now, about a third of all US states recognize same sex marriage. Before long, that will be the case in all 50 states. They're falling like dominoes.

The second ruling the Supreme Court got right dealt with California's Proposition 8, which prohibited same sex marriage in California, and was already struck down by a federal district court. The Supreme Court decided proponents "did not have standing" to put it back into effect.

Simply put, the Supreme Court said the anti-gay bigots could not show that a married lesbian couple down the street could possibly harm their own marriage in any way. Thus they had no "standing" to put the discriminatory law back into effect.

So two big decisions for equality and liberty came today -- the day after a horrendously bad decision was made by this same court.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court struck down a major part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It's the part that determines which states must get federal permission before changing their voting laws. It applies to the states that have a long, ugly history of discriminating against minorities, making it difficult if not impossible for them to exercise their right to vote.
LBJ signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965

The Voting Rights Act requires 9 states with a rich history of discrimination, mostly in the South, to get approval from the Justice Department before changing their voting laws. Ironically, the law was renewed several times, including in 2006, when it passed the US Senate 98-0!

It was used to block over 1,000 changes to voting laws from 1982 to 2006.  Last year, it was invoked to stop an unnecessary voter identification law in Texas as well as a Florida law that would have eliminated early voting days in minority areas.

Last year's antics, including so many voter suppression laws put into effect, so many early voting days cut, and so many hours cut, clearly show that the law is still needed.

Rightwingers are thrilled that the Voting Rights Act has had an integral part struck down. But eliminating it may work against them. Remember, in 2012, all the attempts to stifle voter participation from non-white Americans resulted in a backlash, and record-breaking numbers of black voters stood in line for as many hours as it took to take advantage of their right to vote.

I hope states that believe they have a green light to institute more voter suppression laws suffer the same consequence.

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