Last week, we received some promising news, and some bad news, from the halls of power in Washington, D.C.
First, what is promising. On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear challenges to the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8 (Prop 8) in its 2013 session. Both the federal DOMA and California’s Prop 8 serve as barriers to marriage equality in the United States by defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
Should the Supreme Court rule Prop 8 and/or DOMA unconstitutional, it would be a significant victory for the gay rights movement and for all those who stand on the side of equality. If Prop 8 is overturned, California would become the 10th and largest state to allow same-sex marriage licenses to be issued. Should DOMA be ruled unconstitutional, same sex couples who are legally married in their state would be entitled to the same federal benefits as opposite sex married couples. Regardless of how the cases are decided, the Court’s analysis will be highly influential in the marriage equality debate, and LGBT rights generally, for years to come.
Now the bad news. Last Tuesday, the U.S. Senate failed to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, falling short of the two-thirds majority needed to ratify the Convention with a vote of 61 to 38. As a nation boasting the most comprehensive national protections for individuals with disabilities, this failed opportunity prevents the U.S. from showing true leadership on protecting even the most basic civil rights for persons with disabilities across the globe.
The 2006 treaty has seen bipartisan support from lawmakers since its inception, including endorsements from former President George H. W. Bush and former Senator Bob Dole, but several conservative lawmakers refused to endorse a UN treaty. The Convention has already been approved by 125 countries, many of which do not have legal protections akin to the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to the U.N., about 10 percent of the global population has a disability, making the disability community the world’s largest minority. The Senate’s rejection of the Convention is an embarrassment to the advocates and nations working to make the global community a better place for those with disabilities.
The Senate’s vote, coupled with the Supreme Court’s action, accurately reflect the movement for equality. For every step forward, there is a defeat that serves to remind us that there is still so much work to be done in ensuring civil rights for all individuals.