Mixed emotions

debbie-downerWe were on vacation at the Lake Erie shore last week when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decisions overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and bouncing California’s Proposition 8 back to a lower court.

Like everyone else, I watched our friends giving each other virtual high-fives on Facebook and Twitter. And it bugged me.

Sure, we are taking small steps forward for same-sex couples, but we’re taking giant leaps backwards in every other area of American civil rights!

During her podcast last Wednesday, Lynn Cullen noted that conservatives on the Supreme Court are rumored to be getting ready to strike down affirmative action programs as unconstitutional.

Conservatives throw us a tiny scrap of hope in the form of a DOMA ruling, while they chip, chip, chip away at all of our other civil rights gains of the last 50 years.

I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer, but here’s what bothers me: Although the court’s decision to strike down DOMA is a huge for us in the LGBTQ community, the court’s decision one day earlier to invalidate a big section of the Voting Rights Act is a huge blow to everyone in the United States.

And I’m not sure the progressive and LGBTQ communities paid as much attention to the Voting Rights Act ruling, because we were too busy popping champagne corks over DOMA.

It seems to me that even as courts and legislators uphold rights for the LGBTQ community, basic human rights for all people are in jeopardy. States with Republican-controlled legislatures, such as Pennsylvania, continue to ram through horribly regressive legislation blocking women’s access to birth control, family planning and abortion.

And not only have Republicans declared war on women, they’ve declared war on the poor:

  • While we were in Ohio, the local newspapers were full of stories about how their state legislature has cut income taxes while raising sales taxes. As Rust Wire points out, that’s a shit-show fail parade from start to finish: “If you make more than $350,000 a year, you would save more than $10,000 annually on taxes … If you make less than $18,000 annually? Your taxes go up $63! Seems fair!”
  • North Carolina, which has the fifth-highest jobless rate in the United States, is eliminating unemployment benefits for about 170,000 people this year. (Republicans in North Carolina’s state legislature say they want to kick people off of unemployment to encourage them to look harder for work. They also want to cut business taxes.)

And yet … we (the Internet progressive community) aren’t talking about those things with the same outrage that we’ve talked about same-sex marriage. Why, I wonder?

I wonder, frankly, if white (or at least middle-class) privilege is at work here?

It’s much easier to come out of the closet if you’re white, American-born, college-educated and middle-class, and working for an employer who has strong rules protecting gender identity and sexual orientation. It’s not so easy to come out if you’re a person of color, or someone with a high-school diploma, or someone with a minimum wage job, or someone who’s an immigrant on a work permit, or … well, you get my drift.

A lot of out, visible LGBTQ people tend to be middle-class and college-educated—people with the means and ability to organize. Let’s not kid ourselves—conservatives are giving ground on LGBTQ issues because they’re losing political ground to us.

We privileged folks have photo IDs and steady jobs and private health insurance. We struggle, sure, but voter ID laws, and cuts to food stamps and Medicaid and public transit don’t hit us so hard.

What does hit us personally? Discrimination against same-sex partners. So that’s where we’ve focused our energies, and that’s where we’ve achieved some success.

But: where’s the lobbying group for the single mother of two from McKees Rocks who takes two buses to her minimum-wage job every day? Where are the advocates for the 17-year-old girl from Butler County who can’t get information about birth control because her school teaches “abstinence only” education?

Those lobbies don’t exist. Those folks don’t have voices.

We shouldn’t let our small gains on issues such as same-sex marriage blind us to the fact that, overall, things are getting worse, not better, for many Americans—gay, straight, trans, bi, white, Asian, black, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, etc.

So, sure, I’ll be happy about a small victory, such as DOMA’s defeat—but I’m mostly wary about the ongoing fight on every other front that should be important to all of us.


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  • I read this yesterday, a quote from a long time ago, and to me it speaks to a lot of what you’re writing about:

    “It is clear to [citizens today that the well-being and full security of the state can be achieved only within the larger concept of national interest, which comprehends at the same time the welfare of all of the states and all of the citizens. In an interdependent world, the ultimate good of any part can be attained only
    with full regard to its relationship with the whole.”

    Remarkably, that’s a Republican presidential candidate (Eisenhower) speaking to the people of Mississipi.(Via Charlie Mitchell, Post-Gazette, 4 July 13, http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/state/vicksburg-gettysburg-battles-similar-yet-different-694287/ )

    That just tells me how far we’ve moved from the 1950’s, and which direction.

    Excellent post, Trish, my compliments.

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