LGBT groups decry SCOTUS Voting Rights Acts ruling as ‘grave disservice’

The Supreme Court in the case officially known as Shelby County v. Holder ruled that Section 4 of the VRA is unconstitutional. It was this section that required a formula to determine “which states and local governments fall under Section 5” and therefore need federal approval before changing their voting laws. Georgia is one of the states that fell under this formula.

Essentially, Chief Roberts and the other four justice who agreed with him said we live in a much different time than 1965 when the VRA was passed by Congress. Read this story by the New York Times for a great explanation of what the ruling states.

Numerous LGBT groups spoke out against today’s ruling in the Voting Rights Act case by the U.S. Supreme Court, calling it a “grave disservice” and a blow to equality.

“Voting rights protections, which have long served our nation’s commitment to equality and justice, should not be cast aside now. The court has done America a grave disservice, and we will work with our coalition partners to undo the damage inflicted by this retrogressive ruling,” reads a joint statement from the Center for Black Equity; CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers; The Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals; Equality Federation; Family Equality Council; Freedom to Marry; Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders;

the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC); Human Rights Campaign; Immigration Equality Action Fund; Lambda Legal; National Black Justice Coalition; National Center for Lesbian Rights; National Center for Transgender Equality; National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance; Out & Equal Workplace Advocates; PFLAG – Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays; Pride at Work, AFL-CIO; and Unid@s.

That’s an impressive list, as it should be. SCOTUS’ ruling is a huge strike against equality and that impacts us all. As we anxiously await 10 a.m. Wednesday when the Supreme Court will rule on something so important to us — our relationships — we cannot forget what happened today.

“Today, the Supreme Court stuck a dagger into the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most effective pieces of legislation Congress has passed in the last 50 years,” said U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) in a statement today.

“These men never stood in unmovable lines. They were never denied the right to participate in the democratic process. They were never beaten, jailed, run off their farms or fired from their jobs. No one they knew died simply trying to register to vote. They are not the victims of gerrymandering or contemporary unjust schemes to maneuver them out of their constitutional rights,” Lewis added.

When Lewis, one of our staunchest supports and who has never wavered in his support for marriage equality or any other issues that directly impact the LGBT community, says something is wrong — and this ruling is wrong — we all must all pay attention. We need to have his back as well as the backs of the millions of other people of color who are now marginalized again, and even more, with this ruling.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg read her dissent from the bench today, and she was pissed. And she made such an eloquent point that speaks to the heart of the matter.

“The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective. The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclear­ance is no longer needed. With that belief, and the argument derived from it, history repeats itself,” Ginsberg wrote.

Anyone who pays any attention to voting knows discrimination continues today, including in Georgia. When Georgia tried to implement discriminatory voting practices in 2009 under the leadership of Secretary of State Karen Handel (who is by no means a friend to LGBT Georgians at all), it was the Voting Rights Act that ensured equality.

When I interviewed longtime Atlanta LGBT activist Mary Anne Adams for a story about five issues beyond marriage LGBT people need to focus our energy on, she quoted Audre Lorde:

“The late Audre Lorde, who described herself as a black-lesbian feminist mother lover poet, once said, ‘There is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we don’t live single issue lives.’ I think this speaks volumes regarding the marriage equality issue in the context of all the systematic violence and discrimination that negatively impacts our communities,” she said.

“If we are to conduct our work using a social justice framework, we have to seriously align ourselves with progressive groups, marginalized communities, people of color, women/youth organizations, and stand up and show up for them, as we expect them to support us,” Adams added.

But it may be my friend Ryan Lee, a proud gay man and brilliant writer and thinker, who said it best in a Facebook status update today:

“Tonight would be a good night for introspection for LGBT Americans as we eagerly await the Supreme Court decisions on marriage. I loathe the term and concept of us being ‘The New Civil Rights Movement’ because that implies that previous civil rights movements have passed. The Voting Rights Act ruling, Paula Deen, Trayvon Martin — examples abound that bigotry, prejudice and oppression continue to thrive, and all quests for justice march on. As we bite our nails and fight for our rights, it would behoove us to see our struggle in a less isolated light, and commit ourselves to all liberation struggles (rather than invoking them solely when they benefit our cause). RIP DOMA!”

The Supreme Court says we live in a very different America than some 40 years ago. And it’s true, we do. We do have an African-American president. But we still every day read and hear about bigotry against people of color, including many instances of disrespect against President Obama. And now another obstacle has been put in the way — an obstacle that people fought for and died for to break down. And, as Justice Ginsberg noted, history repeats itself.

Tomorrow marks the 10 year anniversary of the landmark Lawrence v. Texas ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down all state sodomy laws. Let’s hope for a landmark ruling in the favor of all LGBT Americans in the morning to mark that anniversary. But as we gather for Day of Decision rallies in Georgia and across the nation let’s not forget our brothers and sisters who are discriminated against because of who they are and now again face discrimination for their very basic right to cast a ballot.