The Long Fight Ahead

The Long Fight Ahead

Shane BarnhillFriday,3 July 2015

The past week was a busy one for the United States Supreme Court, which handed down rulings on several cases, while refusing to hear a closely-watched software copyright case between Oracle and Google. Two decisions, in particular — the Court’s 6-3 decision on King v. Burwell, which upheld the legality of an important part of the Affordable Care Act, followed by a 5-4 decision on Obergefell v. Hodges, making same-sex marriage a nationwide right — were by far the most high profile cases. The latter set off celebrations across the United States, as LGBT advocates reveled in a hard-fought victory that affords same-sex partners the same basic, Constitutional marriage rights as opposite-sex partners.

The Court’s marriage equality ruling is the latest milestone in American civil rights, calling to mind the 19th Amendment that granted women’s voting rights, as well as a string of Court decisions in the 1950s (e.g. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka) and 1960s (e.g. Heart of Atlanta Motel Inc. v. United States) which prohibited various forms of racial segregation and discrimination. In the context of these past civil rights milestones, however, Obergefell v. Hodges also serves as a critical reminder.

There’s a long fight ahead for the LGBT community.

For example, it’s been 95 years — nearly a full century — since the women’s suffrage movement culminated in one measure of gender-based parity (voting rights), and 52 years since the Equal Pay Act of 1963 supposedly provided another. And yet, women still earn only about 78%-82% as much as men make in a year. There may be a variety of reasons for this disparity, but one of them is likely prejudice, either consciously or subconsciously, according to Vox Media: “there is also evidence that employers are averse to promoting young women, as employers worry that those women will not stick around or will start putting in fewer hours when they have children.”

Similarly, decades have passed since the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, but few reasonable people would argue that racism is no longer a problem in America. Evidence of pervasive racism is everywhere. Just last month, for example, several predominantly African American churches were burned to the ground, and 9 parishioners at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, were murdered in an overtly racist hate crime.

Police shootings are another obvious example of pernicious racism. Although Michael Wines points out in The New York Times that “reliable data on shootings by police officers” can be hard to come by, FiveThirtyEight counters that, “In 2014 and March of 2015, Mapping Police Violence counted 297 people killed by police around the country who were unarmed. Of those people, 117 were African-American, 167 were not, and the project couldn’t identify race for 13. That means 41 percent of unarmed people killed by police during that time in the database (with an identified race) were African-American, far out of proportion in a country that was 14 percent African-American in 2013.”

The point is, the history of civil rights victories forecasts a difficult road ahead for LGBT rights, full of prejudicial treatment due to implicit biases and outright bigotry. Just days after the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, Presidential candidate (!!) Ted Cruz called on states to ignore the Supreme Court’s judgment for marriage equality, and — now that he sees his hateful views as being on the wrong side of both history and the Court — is talking up the idea of a constitutional amendment to allow “the option of impeaching Supreme Court Justices through a supermajority vote in the Senate.” And a store owner in Tennessee has already placed a “No Gays Allowed” sign at the entryway to his store — which is perfectly legal, since Tennessee is one of 31 states that “lack civil rights laws that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace, housing, or public accommodations.”

So as we celebrate this moment in time as a history-making victory for equal rights, let’s be mindful of the sobering reality ahead, and remember that we, as citizens, need to carefully assess the views and policies of our elected officials, to ensure that they don’t attempt to reverse the progress that’s been made,

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