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Sunday, 30 June 2013

SCOTUS, or I Grow Dissatisfied with the Tone

Last week was a pretty big one for the US Supreme Court, with a bunch of big rulings handed down. On the positive side, they effectively invalidated California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, and pretty much killed the Defense of Marriage Act. My congratulations to all those couples whose marriages will now be recognized in California (including my friend Larrison, who literally got married a couple weeks before the ruling).

On the negative side, though, the Supreme Court also struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 - the part that was meant to prevent certain jurisdictions from using literacy tests or other means to keep certain groups (ie minorities, ie black people) from voting. Up until last week, any county or state or whatever that wanted to impose some test of some kind (like a citizenship test) had to get federal approval; now they can theoretically do what they want.

Obviously, I say "theoretically" because I don't actually believe every state in the South is going to start introducing diabolical literacy tests. It's been nearly 50 years, and in some ways all of America's come along since then - one good indicator is the current occupant of the White House (although he didn't actually win much of the South, did he?).

But it's hard to reconcile the two decisions, isn't it? This is a pretty conservative court, overall - the whole corporations as people and the super-PAC thing came out under this court (and also in the past week or so, they've kind of gutted our right to remain silent when we get arrested). So how does one fit the decision to enshrine gay people's right to marry with the decision to remove obstacles to taking away black people's right to vote?

Refocus: it's not straight vs gay or white vs black. It's rich vs poor.

I don't say this lightly, but I think it fits. Obviously not all gay people are rich, and not all black people are poor (nor are all poor people black). But taking the latter issue first, I don't believe the VRA decision was a conscious decision to screw black people, I just think it reflects Americans' attitude toward all poor people, regardless of race. Some places will target poor people of certain ethnicities, but a literacy test will be just as effective at barring some whites as it will be in barring some black voters.

As far as the gay marriage thing, I'm going to generalize a bit when I say that it's more likely to affect affluent urban and coastal gays and lesbians, rather than those who come from more modest socioeconomic backgrounds, or less tolerant corners of the country. Homosexuality is simply less accepted in certain groups, so the DOMA ruling doesn't really help the LGBTQ people who are part of those groups.

If I'm really cynical, I can even frame the DOMA ruling as what the Romans called "bread and circuses". Social media pretty much exploded (in a good way) when it was announced, way more than it did the day before for the VRA ruling. That's probably a selection bias, because of who I follow on Twitter, but I can't shake the feeling that Justices Roberts, Alito et al were less concerned with DOMA, because it's not about enfranchising or disenfranchising "undesirables"; the people who benefit are more affluent, so therefore the people who "should" be voting. Whereas the VRA thing makes it easier to stop the people who "shouldn't" be voting.

But I'm not that cynical, right?