The latest term of the U.S. Supreme Court sliced through a host of complicated cases, but what emerged for progressive advocates affirmed and reinvigorated their efforts to ensure justice and equality under the law.
Without doubt, 2015 will go down in history for decisions that stand to have generational impact. Arguably, the affirmation of the Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare – will mark a watershed moment, as did the implementation of Social Security and Medicaid decades before.
But with rulings preserving the goals of the nation’s fair housing laws and establishing marriage equality as the law of the land, the Supreme Court also offered clear marching orders for agencies such as PCHR.
“With last week’s prudent U.S .Supreme Court rulings, all Americans inclusively gained access to the fundamental rights of fair housing, healthcare, and same sex marriage,” said PCHR Chairman Thomas H. Earle. “It was a powerful set of outcomes for people who often had been left powerless in our society.”
From the court’s marble steps on First Street NE in Washington, D.C. to town squares across the country, reactions to the rulings were as euphoric as they were spontaneous – and colorful. Obamacare proponents could be seen waving brightly colored placards while marriage equality supporters waved rainbow flags.
The lawn of the National Constitution Center filled with supporters along with an array of notable speakers, including Mayor Michael A. Nutter, ACLU of PA Executive Director Reggie Shuford, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Human Rights Campaign’s Christopher Labonte and the Rev. Jeff Haskins of the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church, among others.
Obergefell v. Hodges – and the three related cases bundled with it – proclaimed that the protection of marriage’s rights and privileges among wedded same-sex couples could not be denied in any state. A marriage in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania must be recognized in Alabama or Texas.
The ruling on marriage equality both elicited joy and set the stage for the next civil rights battle for LGBTQ advocates and their allies. While Philadelphia has nondiscrimination policies, in communities across the Commonwealth, someone legally could be fired or evicted on the basis of LGBTQ bias. Until Pennsylvania adopts a nondiscrimination law, that specter will hang like a gloom cloud over even the sunniest wedding and honeymoon memories.
That was a point emphasized at rallies that arose in the wake of the decision.
“Today we celebrate – and recommit to the hard work in front of us,” said Chris Bartlett, executive director of the William Way LGBT Community Center. “That’s to fight discrimination, to insure trans equity, and to insure safe schools for LGBT students.”
And while not as heavily publicized as the other cases, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project stands to have an equally sizable impact.
At issue was the interpretation and application of the Fair Housing Act, specifically its call making it illegal to refuse to rent, sell or otherwise block the rental or sale of a property to someone based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The concern in this case, and others like it elsewhere was “disparate impact” – that a law or policy has a discriminatory effect, even if unintended.
In Texas, there were claims that state and local governments were violating the spirit of the Fair Housing Act by perpetuating segregation, and using federal housing dollars to do it. Under the ruling, subsidized housing cannot solely be placed in isolated, impoverished areas when the goals are to integrate areas and open access to better jobs and schools to the underserved.
The ruling helped chip away at the negative legacy of redlining and other discriminatory policies of the past that continue to shackle too many. In an age of urban revitalization and tensions spawned by gentrification, the Supreme Court cast an important perspective on both public accommodation and fair housing for communities nationwide.
“As the largest poor city in America, this decision impacts us greatly regarding the effects of development on communities of color in Philadelphia,” PCHR’s Landau said.
“Philadelphia is continuing to go through vast changes and development, this decision reinforces the notion that we must slow down and look at the impact development will have on our communities.”
Another term down, and other high-profile cases wait in the wings. In the meantime, there is plenty to absorb and put into action. As always, PCHR stands ready to help ensure justice and equality reign supreme.