We Have No Civil Rights Without Voting Rights

It's a beautiful day under the rainbow here in San Francisco, where at long last people can celebrate freedom to marry and married couples can stand equal under the federal law. LGBT families are rejoicing and incorrigible bachelors are being warned, "no more excuses." Certainly we are thrilled to kick off our Pride Parade weekend a few days early with civic triumph.

But amid the jubilation lies the sobering reality that we have no civil rights without voting rights. When the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby to invalidate Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act -- a move that Bloody Sunday survivor Congressman John Lewis called "a dagger in the heart" of the civil rights law -- it reminded us that even today's victory can be gone in an instant should we lose the power to vote for our rights.

Consider the stirring people's filibuster by Texas Senator Wendy Davis, who overcame long odds to defeat an anti-abortion bill denying the procedure even for rape and incest. Davis only got elected to the Texas Senate due to the Voting Rights Act challenge to Republican gerrymandering designed to disenfranchise communities of color in her area. Although Davis won last night, Governor Perry has already signaled a second special session of the Texas legislature to revive the extremist efforts, and the Supreme Court ruling all but ensures that voter suppression laws will conspire to constrict Davis' voters from sending her back to Austin.

Consider the joyful response to the Supreme Court decision on DOMA and Prop 8 coming from high-profile Republicans like "super donor" Paul Singer who hailed "a victory for gay couples, their children and for freedom," who nevertheless remained silent on the voting rights that allowed the public to elect pro-equality legislators and a pro-equality president, Barack Obama, who appointed pro-equality justices. Without Republican voices on voting rights, we have no hope of a bipartisan fix to the Shelby ruling to protect marriage rights from the already-declared pushback against so-called "illegitimate" rulings.

For years civil rights and LGBT rights and voting rights activists have organized together in solidarity to see equality of opportunity from the ballot box to the legislature to the courthouse, giving rise to an equality generation. Indeed the Voting Rights Act amici curiae ("friends of the court) list posted by the NAACP and AFER's amici curae supporting the plaintiffs challenging California's Proposition 8 in Hollingsworth v. Perry both read like a Who's Who of progressive Americans, as did the speakers' lists at rallies outside the Supreme Court for both the Voting Rights Act and the freedom to marry coalitions.

That solidarity in March is bittersweet now, as we experience the judicial whiplash of yesterday's voting rights devolution and today's marriage equality evolution.

Unless and until Americans speak out with the same fervor for voting rights as we do for civil rights, marriage equality and women's rights, we risk the very gains we celebrate today.

Today we dance in the streets; this weekend we march forward alternating one step for Pride and one step for the VRA knowing that we have no civil rights without voting rights.