The Struggle Continues for Civil Rights

Last week's Supreme Court rulings on the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) reminded us that the struggle for civil rights is not over. To truly honor the 49th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, we must continue our fight for human dignity and equality for all.

I was proud to march beside some of the most notable Civil Rights activists, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., from Selma to Montgomery. We all knew that the road to true equality would be long and arduous, but it is disgraceful that we still must fight for our voting rights in 2013.

Make no mistake: voting rights in this country are still under assault. In the 1960s, voter suppression was carried out with attack dogs, water hoses, and physical beatings. Blacks were forced to endure unimaginable brutality and harassment, simply for trying to vote. Today, those who seek to disenfranchise minorities -- including Blacks, Hispanics and Asians -- use more discreet tactics, such as voter intimidation, gerrymandering, restrictive new voter ID laws, and onerously long lines.

The right to vote should be considered sacred in our democracy. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was the most effective protection against voter discrimination for the past five decades. Yet less than 24 hours after the Court gutted the VRA, five of the previously covered states began pushing forward with more stringent voter ID laws.

Our ongoing struggle for equality in this country extends beyond the ballot box. The current fight for LGBT rights is the newest front in the Civil Rights Movement. The end of DOMA was significant step in the right direction, but there is still more work to be done.

The promise of the American Dream requires that we are all provided an equal opportunity to participate in and contribute to our nation. That is why I have introduced a bill with Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), called the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, which will correct the record of 114,000 LGBT service men and women who received less than honorable discharges simply for being gay.

We must root out discrimination and intolerance wherever we find it. That means protecting voting rights, fighting for marriage equality in all 50 states, passing the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, and restoring honor to LGBT veterans. This country was founded upon the principle that we are all endowed with certain inalienable rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness -- those rights are what make America great, and they belong to each and every one of us.