Monday, July 1, 2013

Civil Rights and Regressions

A week has just passed which was both jubilant and sad for civil rights in America.

I am happy about federal marriage rights for gays and lesbians; sad about undermining voting rights for minorities —and very aware of how much work there is ahead on both issues.  I fear there is a deep and troubling connection between these two contradictory Court decisions, and it has more to do with economics and the Establishment than it has much to do with sexual orientation.

A Victory for the System?

It takes nothing away from the stunning victory for marriage equality to note, as Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun magazine does, that “though the marriage equality movement challenges traditional social norms in U.S. society, the movement is at root a bid for inclusion in the current system rather than an attempt to shake up the system itself.”  Rights for LGBT people have been driven, predominantly, by people with connections within the system—and actually serves to enhance the system. Marriage Equality involves significant—and deserved—financial justice as well as promising greater social inclusion.

While it affects people of all colors and classes, the cultural shift that leads to the Court’s decision was created by millions of people “coming out” at levels of society not so far removed from the corridors of power: stockbrokers, teachers, clergy, media personalities, schoolteachers, executives, board members, to say nothing of your uncle Sid or cousin Sally. Inclusivity is good business in the international marketplace, and the LGBT population includes a large pool of skilled people and an important voting bloc.

But what about those about to be frustrated at the polls—especially poor people of color who are increasingly part of this (partially) prosperous nation’s economic underbelly?  Lerner goes on: “Any attempt to fight for substantive racial equity in our society, on the other hand, would necessarily involve a deeply threatening overhaul of our current economic system.”*

States Rights All Over Again

Furthermore, both decisions lay heavy emphasis on States Rights, the darling of the conservative wing of Court. In stark contrast to the mid-20th century battle to secure human rights on a national leve, the struggle for further marriage equality will be fought state by state, probably for a generation to come. The battle for voting rights, as well, the Court has decreed, will be a state-by-state battle, against even greater odds, while the GOP holds so many state legislatures securely, and has freely acknowledged that higher minority turnout hurts their chances of winning.

The preacher at last Sunday's Pride Evensong in New York City noted this glaring contrast, and called on the congregation to dig in for the long haul for the rights of all Americans. It’s time for progressives to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn—and ponder what actions will be needed to provide the same kind of momentum for Black and Latino voting rights as was created for Marriage Equality.

In the state-by-state slug-fest before us, will the cause of Blacks and Latinos be as successful as Marriage Equality promises, eventually, to be? And what will it take to make it so?

* You can see Rabbi Lerner’s full post at

No comments:

Post a Comment