From the US Supreme Court: a defeat for racial diversity,a victory for same-sex marriage
Charles M. Blow
Proponents of equality have reason to both cheer and cry this week. This week,in a series of rulings,the Supreme Court lay bare once more a continuing divide in this country about the role and limits of government in ensuring or denying equality.
In the University of Texas at Austin affirmative action case,the Voting Rights Act case and the same-sex marriage cases,the court drew a line between policies that explicitly articulate exclusion and those that implicitly and effectually remedy exclusion both current and historical. Proponents of racial diversity were on the losing end of those rulings,and same-sex marriage proponents were on the winning end. The court set a higher bar for including race as one factor among many in university admissions and struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. But it also voided the Defence of Marriage Act and declined to decide the Proposition 8 case,effectively allowing same-sex marriage in California.
One movement for equality had its spirits lifted and another had them crushed. But the truth is that these movements are not wholly dissimilar. All combatants for justice are cousins. Jim Crow and Jim Queer are of a kind. So,given what happened on the racial civil rights front this week,the LGBT civil rights movement would be wise to take heed. Overcoming blatantly unconstitutional laws is only a first step in the never-ending march towards justice. It is in the decades that follow that discriminatory policies can become more illusory. Thats when,even if the net effect of a law is that it is discriminatory,the law itself may not be seen as such. In this murky period intent can be deemed unknowable and effect can be deemed inadvertent. This is when the courts and the law can essentially say that if you can throw a rock and hide your hand,you can in turn hide your guilt. This is when personal discrimination fades into the fog of a more ominous and amorphous structural discrimination.
Thats the fight equality movements must mount when they grow up shadowboxing. I sincerely believe that in my lifetime,gay marriage will be legal in the whole of the country. But it is unlikely that the LGBT community will become more than a minority group. I also know that the changing of laws does not work in tandem with the changing of hearts,which means that minority groups are always vulnerable. When the laws change,some things simply become subterfuge. In striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act,Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr wrote,things have changed dramatically. But I submit that so have certain tactics.
Just ask black civil rights leaders still fighting a huge prison industrial complex,police policies like stop-and-frisk and predatory lending practices. Ask womens rights leaders still fighting for equal pay,defending a womans right to sovereign authority of her own body including full access to a wide range of reproductive options. To those celebrating the gay rights victory,this is your moment. Enjoy it. To racial diversity warriors,mourn. But not for long. In the morning we must all rise together and remember what Winston Churchill reportedly said: Success is not final,failure is not fatal,it is the courage to continue that counts.
And remember that it is no coincidence that there is quite a bit of overlap among the states that were covered by the Voting Rights Act,those that have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage,those with some of the most restrictive abortion laws and those that have considered or passed some of the strictest anti-immigrant bills. Racial hostility,homophobia and misogyny are braided together like strands of the same rope.
Engaging in combat as a coalition reinforces and expands everyones power,reach and influence. We must realise that if everyone can see the sameness in these struggles,rather than the differences,we will be able to see that America is already a majority minority country.
The New York Times