This week the Supreme Court made two widely publicized decisions (and one non-decision). In one, the court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Doing so has provided gay married couples with over 1000 previously denied federal rights and privileges. This is a huge victory for the LGBT movement and people have every reason to celebrate the decision. In the other decision, which will open the floodgates for state-based voter suppression laws, the Supreme Court ruled section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) as unconstitutional. The gutting of the VRA will make it even more difficult for marginalized communities, particularly the poor, people of color, immigrants, and people with disabilities, to vote and to secure adequate political representation in our government.
Browsing social media, reading through different liberal news sources and blogs, I have noticed a general consensus that this a bittersweet moment in US history; a victory for the gay and lesbian community and a defeat for the poor and people of color. But I don’t see it this way. Yes, the overturning of DOMA is a great thing, but the court’s ruling on the VRA is not only a defeat for low-income and minority voters, it’s also a defeat for the LGBT movement. In many cases, the states passing voter suppression laws are also the states where the most work needs to be done for LGBT rights. It is legal in 34 states to be fired for being transgender and in 29 states for being gay. Gay marriage is not recognized in 37 states.
Voter suppression laws are disenfranchising a group of people more likely to vote for progressive candidates in favor of pro-LGBT legislation. These types of laws also disproportionately affect gay and lesbian couples who are more likely to live in poverty than their straight counterparts. By defining these two Supreme Court decisions as separate we are missing out on an powerful coalition between two oppressed communities in America. We need to come together as a movement. What’s good for the anti-class and anti-racist movements is also good for LGBT rights.
Tareq Alani grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His passion for social justice comes out of his parents’ experience as immigrants in North America as well as his own experience as an ethnic and religious minority growing up in the US.