A Constitutional Rollercoaster


I had another post written for today, but there’s much too much going on! This week has been a rollercoaster of disappointment, despair, joy and exaltation, and it’s only Wednesday.

On Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court issued an awful ruling that struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act. As compiled by Slacktivist, a flurry of Republican-controlled state legislatures immediately began efforts to pass restrictive voter-ID laws and redraw electoral maps to dilute minority votes – conclusively putting the lie to the claims of the five conservative justices who said that the VRA’s protections were no longer needed.

Then, on Tuesday night, the Texas state legislature was poised to pass a set of savage restrictions on abortion (the ones I discussed on Monday), designed to put most of the state’s family planning clinics out of business… until a dramatic filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis, who stayed on her feet talking, without a break, for nearly 13 hours to run out the clock on the last day of a special legislative session.

Late in the night, when victory was within reach, a Republican legislator objected that some of Davis’ comments about sonograms were irrelevant to an abortion bill (!!), and Texas’ Republican lieutenant governor ruled against her, forcing her to yield the floor. In spite of angry protests from spectators, the legislature voted in favor of the abortion ban, but not until just after midnight – when the legislative session legally expired. Despite a shocking attempt to retroactively alter the timestamps, the Republicans were ultimately forced to admit that the vote was invalid and the bill was dead.

And then, this morning, the Supreme Court handed down its long-awaited decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop 8. In true two-steps-forward-one-step-back fashion, it gave us two huge and historic wins for equality.

The first ruling struck down Section 3 of DOMA, which barred the federal government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages. This means that same-sex couples who are legally married in a state that permits them will now have access to all the same federal rights and benefits as opposite-sex couples: tax benefits, the right to citizenship, and many more. The second ruling effectively struck down California’s Prop 8, upholding a lower court’s decision on technical grounds, which means that Prop 8 is invalidated and same-sex weddings will resume in California.

I’m still processing all this, and will probably have more to say about it in follow-up posts. In some ways, we’ve made immense progress toward equality this week; in others, we’re seemingly farther than ever. But I’m optimistic: even though we’ve seen the vast length of the path left to travel, we’ve also seen how quickly those great distances can be surmounted, when the right moment arrives. We took one big step today, but we have many more left, so let’s start planning the next one.

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