June 26, 2013

A Victory For Same Sex Marriage Rights

Socialist Action

On June 26 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional. This legislation was promoted and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and denies any of the over 1100 federal benefits to same-sex couples.
The Court’s 5-4 majority decision was clear and simple. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy described DOMA as imposing “a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.” This, he said, violates the right to liberty and equal protection under the law.
The decision means that in the 12 states and the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is legal, those couples will qualify for all federal benefits currently available to heterosexual couples. Other states, however, may still define “marriage” as they choose.
The Supreme Court also tossed out California’s Proposition 8 on technical grounds, which let stand the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals in regard to a legal suit against the referendum measure. If Prop. 8 had been allowed to become state law, it would have revoked the right of same-sex couples to have their marriages recognized in California. The governor immediately said that his administration would begin processing marriage applications as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms that the stay has been lifted.
Nadine Smith of Equality Florida spoke for many when she posted a video saying, “We are left out and left behind.” But these two decisions are still victories that should be celebrated.
For those of us who never would have chosen gay marriage as a defining issue of our movement, the fact is that huge members of our brothers and sisters did choose it. There was a mass movement in our community and they were energized around an act of civil disobedience.
I was living in a small coastal town in Oregon when the mayor of San Francisco in 2004 directed city offices to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in violation of state law. My first thought was, “That’s nice.” But I soon saw that something else was happening as I watched the huge numbers of people line up and wait for hours to fill out their paperwork. And then couples in my small town and elsewhere in Oregon would call me and say, “We are going to San Francisco and wait in line as long as it takes.”
It had become a mass movement of people standing up for equality and against discrimination. Surely, ending employment discrimination was more important. But Marriage Equality was moving people, a lot of people. In the beginning there were no major LGBT organizations, NGOs, or self-serving politicians creating this movement.
After the decisions were announced, it was encouraging to watch the interviews with the plaintiffs, lawyers, and demonstrators who all spoke about the people in the 38 states that are left out of these decisions. There was also talk about the “momentum” that these decisions have created for other issues—first and foremost, the pressure to pass the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA).
For at least two people, the Supreme Court decisions had an immediate effect. Within 30 minutes of the DOMA ruling, a New York City immigration judge stopped deportation proceedings for a Columbian man married to a gay U.S. citizen.


Bob Rossi said...

And what about the SCOTUS decisions that gut the Voting Rights Act, make it more difficult to sue employers on discrimination, break up First Nations families and give property owners more rights to challenge wetlands decisions? And a pending immigration bill that militarizes the border? All of this also happened this week and it deserves critical thinking and a united response. Celebration may be premature, and it should at least be muted by the possibility that the SCOTUS acted in a way which potentially divides the movement by giving some rights to some while taking away the rights of others. The present period may well be remembered some day as the moment when the left and labor caved and left people of color and the First Nations out in the cold. There is precedent for this, of course. I'm not trying to take away from this victory, which is huge, but only trying to underscore the need to look critically at, or reject, rights and privileges that come from above and at the expense of others. Whatever happened to "an injury to one is an injury to all"? Some deep and fast organizing is needed now to get us all back on track and in solidarity with one another. How precisely did this come at the expense of others? We have been trying to build one movement under the leadership of all oppressed peoples based on the intersectionality of oppression and liberation. Is the present situation in which the SCOTUS can rule in favor of one group, but not in favor of all groups, a step forward or a step backward? Do we just say "Better luck next time--I got mine!" to everyone the SCOTUS just disenfranchised or what?

Ann Montague said...

Good God!! All the Court decisions should have people writing and analyzing them. Do it! But the idea that a partial victory should not be celebrated is disgusting. Your statement that this was "rights and privileges given from above" is outrageous. This came about not from above but as a result of building a mass social movement which I explained in the article. I also showed how this victory strengthens all of our struggles. One that occurred 30 minutes after the decision. Struggles are never all or nothing. If the decisions had been reversed would you have said there cannot be any celebration because LGBT people are still second class citizens? Of course not. And we would never begrudge a celebration of someone else's victory. "An Injury To One Is An Injury to all" means that we celebrate each others victories and we stand up for all who are oppressed.

Bob Rossi said...

I didn't say that a partial victory should not be celebrated; I said that it should be muted in light of other people's oppression and oppressive court rulings that have gone unnoticed or unremarked upon by much of the left, labor and the gay rights groups. I also said, or tried to say, that this should be a moment for reflection and organizing in support of people of color by people with relatively more privileges and under the leadership of people of color.

So, I have to ask---will any group which championed the defeat of DOMA help mobilize people for the August march on Washington under the leadership of people of color? Are any of these groups mobilizing to support Native Americans in light of the ruling against First Nations families this week? Who is working against the amendments to the immigration bill which militarize the border? How many Pride marches will feature these issues and put forward concrete demands in the context of a united front along these lines?

Just asking.

Because, in theory at least, a gay First Nations person can now marry but may not be able to keep her family intact. Or a gay person of color in the south might some day be able to marry but not have a meaningful vote. And both people will now have an especially hard time pressing a case against discrimination at work.

DOMA may well have been defeated by organizing and in the streets, at least partially so, but it was the SCOTUS that handed down the decision. It feels like we're repeating the worst mistakes of Reconstruction and womens suffrage by silently allowing people of color to be frozen out by the SCOTUS while celebrating one good SCOTUS decision.

And we have to ask why and how it is that DOMA could get struck down while the VRA---the most important piece of civil rights legislation since Reconstruction--took the hit that it did.

Marriage is a right and a privilege if we look at what really constitutes privileges in a patriarchal-capitalist society. And let's not forget that the case that made it to the SCOTUS originated with a privileged person or couple.

Ann Montague said...

This is clearly an attempt to divide oppressed people and say that those struggling for liberation cannot organize their own movements and demand equality and justice.
The short answer, yes of course LGBT persons are now and always been involved in struggles for all those suffering oppression. At the very beginning of our movement it was about the fact that we should no longer submerge our struggle, mute ourselves -it is the very essence of coming out. We never ended our own struggles nor will we. At the same time we continue to be fighters for justice and equality. Are we monolithic, of course not. But neither is any struggle for civil rights. But we won a victory and you make it sound like there was some secret trade off with the Justices. This is ridiculous - Why was RoeV Wade achieved? Not because of machinations among the justices. It was because women had been in the streets demanding "abortion on demand". That is what every movement needs to do on every issue. We need to support each other and celebrate all victories because it is not about the court but about our movement

Bob Rossi said...

So, besides having my point of view described as "outrageous" and "disgusting" and being (wrongly) accused of trying to divide movements and oppressed peoples, my questions and points are not being addressed.

Let's try it again.

I spoke in my first comment about the "intersectionality" of oppression and liberation and the need for people of relatively privilege to organize and fight back under the leadership of oppressed peoples. How does that divide movements?

I cited the examples of the worst mistakes made under Reconstruction and the womens suffrage movements regarding the parsing out of rights and privileges by the SCOTUS. Is this or is this not a danger today?

I asked certain questions regarding the VRA, the upcoming (August) march on Washington and Pride marches and a united front strategy. How does that divide people and what are the answers to the questions posed?

I posed real examples of new barriers some oppressed people will now face as a result of SCOTUS decisions. Am I right or wrong about those barriers? Is there or is there not a will and a program to turn those around? Or will more resources and energy go into the gay marriage fight?

Was there "some secret trade off with the Justices"? Why is this unlikely? Why is it impossible? In fact, court decisions are usually seen in relationship to one another and light of political considerations. You can't logically doubt that.

It's not me who is trying to divide movements and oppressed people. The SCOTUS just (potentially) did that. And folks who are celebrating this great victory without also mourning the hit the VRA and discrimination law and First Nations family rights and the wetlands just took are doing it. And of the one hundred or so e-mails I got this morning about these decisions from progressive groups, I do not see one---not even one---talking about the intersectionality of oppression and liberation or the need for a united front under new conditions or the need for various groups to build the August march on Washington or transform Pride events to talk about oppression and liberation for people of color under these new conditions. It's cliche to say, but the silence is deafening.

Liberals will hold two very separate celebrations this week---the defeat of DOMA and movement on the immigration bill. They will celebrate because these come on essentially liberal terms. We hear a lot of renewed talk about gradualism and partial victories, but where is the talk about capacity to struggle? I'm wondering what the radical agenda is at this point.