Wendy Davis, the Defense of Marriage Act, and the Politics of Complacency

The now-omnipresent pink sneakers Senator Davis wore in the Texas State Capitol during her 11 hour filibuster (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The now-omnipresent pink sneakers Senator Davis wore in the Texas State Capitol during her 11 hour filibuster (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Representative democratic magic happened in the Texas Statehouse at a quarter to midnight last Tuesday. After two hours of state senators bickering over points of procedure and eleven hours of intrepid State Senator Wendy Davis articulately and passionately eviscerating SB5– a bill that would make abortion almost completely inaccessible to women in rural parts of the state– without sitting, leaning, eating, or using the restroom, Davis’s colleague, Senator Leticia Van De Putte issued a call to arms. Senator Van De Putte, who had left her father’s funeral in order to attend the hearing, demanded, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?” What followed was a fifteen-minute scream; thousands of protesters in the Statehouse ran out the clock on the Senate’s special session with their cries, successfully preventing the Senate from voting on SB5 that night. Texas women made their legislators hear them.

Anger makes a difference. In the past half-century there have been two major spikes in the number of American women holding representative office. One was in 1992, and the other was 2012– one following the Anita Hill trial, and one following the 2010 – 2012 “War on Women,” a term popularized during the outrage over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate (including the public shaming of Sandra Fluke), as well as a series of ludicrously out of touch comments from Republican politicians (remember “legitimate rape?”). These events mobilized women. They mobilized young women, who don’t remember the passage of Title IX or the failure of the ERA, who don’t realize just how precarious their rights are, to vote, to volunteer, to run for office. Senator Davis’ filibuster could be one of those moments. SB5 is going to pass– Texas Governor Rick Perry announced a second special session specifically for that purpose. I hope that Lieutenant Governor. Dewhurst’s dismissal of his own constituents as an “unruly mob” and Gov. Perry’s attack on Senator Davis’s family (Perry told reporters: “She was the daughter of a single woman, she was a teenage mother herself. … It is just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example”) will act as catalysts in this way, galvanizing all 180,000 people who were watching Davis speak via YouTube livestream.

But it’s easier to celebrate. The day after Davis’ filibuster, the Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, extending federal benefits to all married couples regardless of gender. It was an exciting day, further confirmation of how far gay Americans have come in achieving mainstream acceptance in the past twenty years with important and immediate consequences; however I’m not sure the public discourse surrounding the decision was entirely appropriate given its actual effects. Of course, if gay couples want to get married there should be nothing stopping them, but marriage itself is a patriarchal, capitalist, and deeply conservative institution. People who are in a position to get married are generally not the most at-risk in a community. Maybe the advent of gay marriage will allow LGBT groups to focus on other issues, such as the massive percentage of homeless queer youth of color, but just as likely is that people will disengage– just as young women are far less likely to identify as feminists than women who lived through the 1960s and 70s.

"Against Equality is an online archive, publishing, and arts collective focused on critiquing mainstream gay and lesbian politics." - See more at: http://www.againstequality.org/#sthash.PuGjhzf2.dpuf

“Against Equality is an online archive, publishing, and arts collective focused on critiquing mainstream gay and lesbian politics.” – See more at: http://www.againstequality.org/#sthash.PuGjhzf2.dpuf

I’m scared that young progressives lack a respect for anger. That we would rather march in parades (sponsored by the NYPD and Coca-Cola Company, no less) than confront harsh realities. And anger is our best asset. It’s our secret weapon. When Republican men oppose abortion, it’s about politics. When women fight for those rights, it’s about our bodies. We can experience our politics viscerally and in ways these conservative men will never understand and cannot control. That kind of anger is power– a power Republican legislators should fear. So celebrate the end of DOMA, but don’t forget that the Supreme Court also struck down vital sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act last week. Don’t forget that Rick Perry is passing SB5 in the face of his screaming constituents. Don’t forget to be angry.

Friedman, Ann. “Another ‘Year of the Woman’? Not So Fast.”The Cut. New York Magazine, n.d. Web. 29 June 2013. http://nymag.com/thecut/2012/11/another-year-of-the-woman-not-so-fast.html

Lessin, Kara. “Consciousness and Caring: A Study of Gender Consciousness in Voters.” Thesis proposal. Harvard University, 2013. Print.



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