THE BLOG
06/26/2013 04:07 pm ET Updated Aug 26, 2013

Supreme Court Rulings on Marriage and Voting Rights Raise the Stakes for Democratic State Legislators

As weeks go for the Supreme Court, this one was truly historic. First, the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act and overturned Proposition 8 in California, meaning that gay and lesbian couples' love and commitment to each other will be matched with the more than 1,000 rights, benefits and responsibilities that the federal government affords to heterosexual couples; and thanks to a parallel ruling on Prop 8, California home will join with 12 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing her citizens to marry and commit their lives together without government interference.

However, even though we celebrate the Court's recognizing the rights of America's LGBT citizens, the court took a step back when it came to upholding the fundamental rights of voters by overturning a crucial part of the Voting Rights Act. This provision was all that stood in the way of Republican legislators who passed draconian state laws designed as "a common method of disenfranchising minority voters."

Now, more than in the last century, advancing the rights of America's LGBT community and ensuring all Americans have access to the ballot box will rely on electing more Democrats to state legislatures.

Compare a tale of two states: Minnesota and Virginia. In 2010 Republicans in Minnesota took control of the Minnesota House and Senate, and one of their first actions was to place a constitutional amendment on the Minnesota ballot to not allow gay and lesbian couples in the state to marry. In 2012, Minnesota not only voted down the amendment, but returned Democrats to the majority in the Minnesota Legislature. Democrats in the legislature chose a different path than their Republican counterparts and used their majority to pass full marriage equality for the state's couples.

Polling in Minnesota shows that 51 percent of voters support marriage equality in the state.

Now compare Minnesota to Virginia, where polling shows 56 percent of voters support marriage equality. Virginia voted for President Obama in 2008 and in 2012, and both of its United States Senators are Democrats who support marriage equality.

However, because Republicans in the state legislature have gerrymandered themselves into the majority, they will not even take up legislation to protect LGBT citizens from being fired from their jobs, to say nothing of changing the state constitution to grant marriage rights to the state's citizens -- brazenly ignoring the desire of the majority of Virginia voters.

The key difference in why Minnesota moved to adopt marriage equality while Virginia does not is Democrats control the Minnesota Legislature, and Republicans control the Virginia legislature -- it really is that simple.

And when it comes basic rights of voters, Democratic legislators are moving to empower all voters while Republicans are working to make it more difficult for minority voters--who overwhelmingly voted Democratic in the last election -- to exercise this basic Constitutional right.

Before the Supreme Court heard arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, Attorneys General from Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas filed a brief to the Supreme Court Justices arguing that because of the Voting Rights Act, these states "forgo still more elections without validly enacted state laws, on account of a statute premised on problems that are now two generations old."

And as for these new state laws, Texas is the epitome of how the Voting Rights Act prevented a bad law from going into effect. For years, Texas had a voter identification law, but in 2011 Republicans in the Texas Legislature passed a much more stringent bill that removed several types of documents that voters could use to prove they were eligible to vote, including state and federal government employee identification cards; however, voters can use a concealed handgun permit to prove their eligibility.

As the Brennan Center for Justice pointed out in urging the Department of Justice to deny preclearance for the new Texas law, "there is a variety of evidence which uniformly indicates that minority citizens in Texas likely possess the forms of identification that are valid under the new legislation at far lower rates than whites." Add this fact to the fact that African American and Latino candidates overwhelmingly supported President Obama and Democrats in the 2012 election, and the real intent behind these new laws become clear: instead of voters choosing their elected officials, elected officials are using voting laws to choose their voters. But now, because of the Court's decision, the law will go into effect "immediately."

So the Supreme Court has ruled; the time for protests outside the high court has ended. For people who care about marriage equality and voter rights, the only real step to advance equality and support voting rights is to elect more Democrats to state legislatures.

Whereas Republicans continue to attack America's LGBT community, Democrats in state legislatures are fighting for full equality. Whereas Republican majorities in state legislatures are making it more difficult for young people and minorities to vote, Democrats are working to remove barriers to vote so all Americans -- even those who disagree with Democrats -- still have a right to cast their vote.

The Supreme Court has essentially thrown the ball to state legislatures to take up the future of voting rights and LGBT equality. To move forward we need Democrats to have majorities so they can move the ball in the right direction.

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