That Happened: DOMA, Wendy Davis, Voters’ Rights and Vaginas


ColumnIt’s been a wild week for civil rights. Here’s what you need to know about DOMA, Wendy Davis, Voters’ Rights and…vaginas.

Oh my god; my head might explode. It’s only Wednesday and this week has been so chock full of news that I feel compelled to offer a round-up. Last night, I was getting ready for my next Lean In circle meeting about the power of storytelling—and in many ways, what connects all of these events is the power of stories.

In the presentation I was watching, I learned that people are 22 times more likely to remember—and connect with—a story than they are to recall or be inspired by a statistic alone. What we saw yesterday in Texas is an amazing example of the power of stories, not to mention perseverance and comfortable shoes.

Don’t Mess With Wendy Davis

It all started yesterday at 11am. The Democratic Texas State Senator attempted a 13-hour filibuster to prevent the passing of an incredibly restrictive anti-choice law that would criminalize abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy and put into place a number of restrictions on doctors to provide care (we’ve seen this before). If it had passed, SB5 would have left Texas with only five abortion providers. If you haven’t noticed, Texas is a pretty massive state.

Davis arrived prepared with pink sneakers, a back brace and—most importantly—stories about  reproductive choice from real women. In a dramatic 15-hour battle, Davis was not allowed to get water or go to the bathroom, receive assistance, lean on an object for support or stray from her topic. The republicans tried some shady moves to shut her down, supporters gathered, Twitter blew up. At the end of the long day, she won!

But not all is right in Texas, today. The state is executing its 500th person and Davis’ fight may not be over.

The Right to Marry, Defended!

In the best pride month celebration to date, the Defense of Marriage Act, the law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by the states, was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote. I would have appreciated a larger number, but a win is a win.

Here’s a piece of the majority opinion: “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

This is a huge step toward equality, but the fight isn’t over. While the federal government has to recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples, individual states are not required to legalize marriage equality. Hopefully, those who haven’t will see this as a sign that it’s time to get on board. (Looking at you, Illinois.) Throughout this fight, countless minds have been changed because of people brave enough to step forward and share their stories before the world, and sometimes their families, were ready to hear them.

A Terrible Day for Voters’ Rights

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that kept discriminatory voting laws from going into effect in areas of the country with histories of disenfranchisement, reports Think Progress. The justices struck down a provision requiring certain jurisdictions, mostly counties in the South, to receive permission from the federal government before changing any law related to voting. In 1965, the slim majority argued, this was necessary to prevent sneaky tricks to keep blacks and Hispanics from having an impact on elections. Apparently, the five Justices who voted to remove the provision believe that racism is over. Had you heard? Great news, huh?

Once again, the Daily Show helps us put this in perspective. John Oliver pointed out that this portion of the VRA has been invoked to protect voters 74 times since the year 2000. And, there’s a direct connection to last night’s events in the Lone Star State. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced this week that the state would advance the nation’s most restrictive voter ID law—the very same redistricting map that was designed to keep Davis out of office.

As Oliver said, “Two hours! They couldn’t even wait for two hours. It takes Texas less time to disenfranchise minority voters than it takes for them to barbecue a pig.” Hopefully, these real stories of the impact of the VRA will inspire people to fight back.

The Vajayjay Monologues

The world doesn’t want to hear your vagina’s story. Earlier this week, iTunes censored the word “vagina” in Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues on its e-book page, spelling “vagina” as “v****a.” This comes on the heels (can I still say heels?) of a newspaper in Wisconsin replacing the repulsive and terrible anatomically correct word with XXXXXXX in an ad for the play. I have said it before and I will say it again, vagina is not a dirty word. Say it loud, say it proud. And with that: Vagina.

Images: Planned Parenthood and The ACLU