This Week In Social Justice

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past seven or eight days, then you must know that quite a lot went down involving social justice recently. But what exactly happened? What are the implications of DOMA and Prop 8′s repeal? What is the VRA- and what happened to it? Why exactly did Wendy Davis spend 11 hours talking without eating, drinking, or sitting down? There is no doubt that each of these subjects deserve their own blog, but for the sake of newsworthiness, here’s a quick (quick being a relative term) rundown of each event (and keep an eye on the HPA blog, because we may be posting more in-depth explanations for each of them, and the way they affect us personally, in the near future).

Feel free to add your thoughts, opinions, and hopes for the future in the comments! (Or corrections, if I made any mistakes involving the nitty-gritty details, though hopefully I didn’t.)

1. Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

After the Supreme Court ruling. Image courtesy of forbes.com

Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled Section 3 of DOMA as unconstitutional. Section 3 of DOMA barred same-sex married couples from being recognized as spouses by the federal government, and in turn denied all  same-sex married couples the federal marriage benefits that are awarded to opposite-sex married couples. You can read an overview of these benefits here. Section 3 of DOMA was the section that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman; with the striking down of it, same-sex married couples are now given federal benefits that they were previously denied. So far, this ruling appears to NOT grant such federal benefits to same-sex married couples who were legally married in a state that allows same-sex marriage but permanently live in a state that does not- however, President Obama has stated that he supports the movement to allow these federal benefits to cross state lines.

This is clearly a win for LGBTQ+ community and supporters across the country, though it may be bittersweet for some people. My mom and her fiancee are to be married in Minnesota on August 1st, as one of the first couples to be legally married in the state- however, since we live in Texas and will have to travel to a different state for them to be legally married, they will be granted none of the federal benefits that same-sex couples who live in Minnesota will. We all cried twice after hearing the news: once out of happiness, and once out of happiness tinged with sadness, jealousy, and curiosity about what it would mean for us to move to a different state.

2. Proposition 8

Before the 2008 election, the California Supreme Court ruled that banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, as the California constitution did not define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. However, during the 2008 election, California citizens voted yes to Prop 8, which amended the constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, therefore taking away rights that were previously in place. In 2010, Prop 8 was ruled as unconstitutional in a US District Court, and then again in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, until the case reached the Supreme Court. SCOTUS announced on Wednesday that Prop 8′s supporters ‘lacked standing to appeal’- AKA, the case never should have gone to the Supreme Court in the first place. By default, the ruling of the case goes back to the one by the US District Court in 2010, which states that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. This legalizes same-sex marriage in California once again.

3. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA)

I wrote a blog about the Voting Rights Act case in February during the Supreme Court arguments, which you can read here. It explains the entire case.

Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled Section 4(b) of the VRA as unconstitutional. Although Section 5 of the VRA was the part that required preclearance, Section 4(b) was the part that determined which areas of the country were subject to the preclearance described in Section 5, and therefore, after ruling Section 4(b) as unconstitutional, Section 5 has been nullified, at least for now.

This is really, really bad. Just hours after the ruling, Texas (how ashamed I am of my state) declared plans to immediately enforce racist voter ID laws and a redistricting plan. With this ruling of the VRA, the Supreme Court has opened the gates to legal discrimination against people of color, and set the civil rights movement back 48 years.

So what can you do about this? Contact your representatives, senators, and other officials; be relentless in making your concerns known; participate in and organize protests; register voters and educate potential voters on your state’s requirements and restrictions; and sign this petition to make your voice heard. We won’t let them get away with this.

4. Wendy Davis’s Filibuster

Can you imagine talking for 11 hours without eating, drinking, sitting down, or going to the bathroom? Welcome to Wendy Davis’s life last Tuesday.

SB5 was the bill under debate in Texas last Tuesday. It would ban all abortions after 20 weeks and require all abortion clinics to meet certain incredibly high standards- standards that would close all but about 5 abortion clinics, which, in a state as large as Texas, would make it nearly impossible for all women living outside of the largest Texan cities to receive an abortion. The bill passed in the House of Representatives and had already received support from the Texas governor Rick Perry- all it needed to do was get past the Texas Senate. The Senate’s 30 day special session, however,  ended less than 38 hours after SB5 passed in the house, and rules forced the Senate to wait 24 hours before voting or debating on the bill, leaving the Senate 13 hours to vote on the bill before midnight closed the special session. Opponents of the bill chose to stage a “filibuster” for those 13 hours in hopes that the special session would close before the bill had been voted on.

Wendy Davis during the filibuster. Image courtesy of today.com

Wendy Davis, a Texas senator, spoke for 11 hours by reading and analyzing the bill, reading testimonies and personal stories, and reading the Austin chronicle story The War On Women’s Health. After 11 hours, she received her third and final penalty, and the Senate had been about to vote until spectators began to chant and protest. Debate on whether or not Davis’s filibuster had ended lasted for two hours, until fifteen minutes before midnight, the Senate closed the debate and went to vote on SB5. The last fifteen minutes were filled with chaos as spectators staged what is commonly known as ‘the people’s filibuster’- causing such a ruckus that by the time state troopers cleared the galley, it was past midnight and the time to vote had passed. That didn’t stop the Senate from still voting, and then claiming that they had voted before midnight (despite the fact that over 180,000 people were watching online). Eventually, the vote was declared as too late, and Texan women are safe from SB5… For now. Rick Perry, however, is attempting to call together a second special session.

Wendy Davis’s courage, the courage of the people in the stands, and the support of all the people watching the filibuster is remarkable. Still, it is baffling to me that it is 2013 and we are still voting on women’s rights, and the thought that Davis’s filibuster may have been for nothing makes me cringe.  It is also terrifying to me to think about my proximity to all of this. The numbers that they’re telling people to call to oppose a second special session? They have my area code. The capitol building where the filibuster was held? It’s five minutes from my house. Sometimes, you don’t realize how important something is until it’s standing right in front of you.

This week had both ups and downs… Let’s keep the momentum going and turn all those downs into ups, ups, and more ups.

 

 

 

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