Gender & Sexuality

How the Sausage Gets Unmade

We've been talking this week about how to stop rape in conflict . As with many massive social changes, I think one of the greatest obstacles to eradicating this atrocity is the common belief that it can't be done. I tried to address that some in Monday's piece , but I thought we could all use a little more nitty-gritty. So I went straight to the source: Liz Bernstein. Bernstein is not only the founding Director of the Nobel Women’s Initiative , but is also a former Coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). For those less familiar with ICBL, the important thing to know is that it worked. Five years after the official launch of the campaign, 122 states signed the ban treaty , a feat which earned the campaign and its leader, Jody Williams , the Nobel Peace Prize. Since then, stockpiles of the weapon and landmine-contaminated-land have both been drastically reduced, and the only states known to be currently using landmines (as of 2009) are Burma and Russia . While...

Why Sex Matters

We've been talking this week about ending sexual violence in conflict, both why it's an achievable goal , and why it's one that affects you . Now I'm going to get a little personal. I'm a survivor of sexual violence. The details of what happened to me are unimportant to this story, but it's important to me that you know. The experience politicized me, and my anti-sexual-violence activism has taken a lot of forms over the decades. I've taught self-defense, written (and successfully changed) institutional policies, performed educational theater, marched and protested, walk-a-thonned, facilitated infinite "discussion groups," and written what must at this point be hundreds of thousands of words on the subject. And over that time, collaborating and conversing with all kinds of people doing overlapping work, I've slowly come to understand that we can't end the global public health, security, and human rights crisis that is rape without changing the sexual culture that enables it to...

Marriage, Already Redefined

Now that's a traditional marriage. (Flickr/Sam Fam)
As the debate over same-sex marriage has proceeded, one of the arguments you hear most often from those opposed to marriage equality is that there is this thing called "traditional marriage" that has been exactly the same for thousands of years, and if we "change the definition of marriage" to include gay people, well then things are really going to get crazy. There'll be no more rationale for keeping siblings from marrying, or keeping a guy from marrying his dog, or keeping a fish from marrying a toaster. What I don't often hear liberals say in response is: Yes, we are changing the definition of marriage. And that's OK. I think it's because advocates of marriage equality understand that change can often be scary, so the impulse is to say, don't worry, this really isn't any big deal unless you're gay. There's no reason why your extremely, adamantly heterosexual marriage will be affected one way or another if your gay neighbors tie the knot. That happens to be true, and one of the...

George Clooney Cares About It

Yesterday I wrote about the new global campaign to end rape in conflict, and why it's a winnable goal . Today, it's time to bring home the reasons why we need to put in the required effort. We’ve all got our lives to live and our own pet issues to look after, and it’s easy for those of us in the U.S. to think of “rape in conflict” as a conceptual "Terrible Thing" that happens to those Other (Poor, Brown) People Far Away. But when we tie it in a tidy little “Over There Issue” bow, we totally erase the ways it’s a "Right Here Issue," both in that we’re complicit in it, and, relatedly, that there are things we in the US can uniquely do about it. Herewith, then, are "Four Ways Rape in Conflict is a Right Here Issue." It’s by no means a complete list—if you’ve got others, please share them in the comments. It’s a crisis in our own military. One in three women in the military are survivors of sexual violations that happened while on active service, according the Department of Veterans...

Marrying Yourself

A radical re-envisioning of marriage, or just reinforcing the pressure to say “I Do?”

(Flickr / Sakura Photo - Dallas Wedding Photographer)
Nadine Schweigert got married this February, but there was no exchange of rings or vows. Schweigert got married to herself. At 36 years old and a mother of two she decided not only is she happy with her life—but she wanted to share and celebrate that happiness in front of a room full of family and friends. Whether she meant to or not, she also showed the world she didn’t need a man to get married. The pressure people—women especially—face to get married is severe, from women’s magazines describing the perfect wedding to every romantic comedy ending with happily ever after. Maybe no one asked you directly (which is rare), but everyone around you is getting married, so you stick out, and everyone wants to know, well, what happened to you? So, does marrying yourself offer a way to fight the nagging insistence that everyone should get partnered up, or does it just perpetuate the idea that everyone should inevitably get married? One perfect day for “one” is not exactly the “happily ever...

Town and Country

On North Carolina’s Amendment One, the fault line was not racial—it was urban-rural.

(Flickr/mediacutts)
In the week since North Carolina voters adopted a constitutional amendment banning recognition of any "domestic legal union" other than heterosexual marriage, a consensus has formed among journalists about African-American complicity. According to this narrative, black voters let their Protestant traditionalism trump any sense of fairness toward lesbians and gay men—and became the critical voting bloc that gave Amendment 1 its landslide victory. Although the language has been cool this time around, it nonetheless has echoes of the widespread vilification of black voters after California passed the similar Proposition 8 in 2008. "Citing deeply held religious objections to homosexuality, African-Americans, many of whom are evangelical Christians, have consistently voted for state bans on gay marriage, most recently in North Carolina," reported NPR . The Charlotte Observer declared that "many conservatives and African-Americans set political differences aside to vote along spiritual...

Let's End Rape in Conflict

As you'll soon notice, I'm not E.J. Graff. She's been kind enough to give me the keys to this joint for a week, and I'm going to do my best not to put too many dents in it. (I won't bore you with bio, but if you're wondering who I am, here's a good place to start .) You will either be alarmed or intrigued to hear that this temporary takeover has a very specific focus: sexual violence in conflict. Stay with me! I’m not going to flood you with statistics and sad stories until you curl up in a ball in the corner. What I hope to do here is convince you that there are things you, actual person reading these words right now, can do about the situation. That said, a few factoids are in order to set the stage, so brace yourself. Rape is as old as war itself. The ancient usage stemmed from a conception of women as property, to be lumped in with the “spoils” due the victors. This still happens today in some places, but the current relationship between rape and conflict is much more tangled...

Supporters of Marriage Equality Need to Quit Whining

(Flickr/rudisillart)
You know how I felt about President Obama declaring himself in favor of same-sex marriage. I was gobsmacked . It’s politically risky . It’s symbolically powerful , in ways that Melinda Hennenberger noted sharply at the Washington Post . It pushed Senator Harry Reid, the next-highest-profile Democratic laggard on the issue, to support marriage equality, making full marriage rights pretty much the official platform of the entire Democratic Party. So I've been surprised by the number of people declaring that the announcement was too little, too late. Maybe, yes, it would have been better for him to have made his declaration a few days before, when his opinion might have influenced the appalling vote in North Carolina, which on Tuesday joined all the rest of the former Confederate states—and, actually, most of the country —in writing its opposition to marriage equality into its constitution . Okay, it's worse than that: The North Carolina law bans any recognition of same-sex partners or...

LGBT Groups Need to Play Offense

Gay marriage often ends up on the ballot after a push by conservative groups, meaning the outcome often ends in their favor.

(AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)
Basic Rights Oregon (BRO)—the leading LGBT advocacy group in the state—faced a difficult decision this past November. In 2004, Oregon voters approved a constitutional measure to ban same-sex marriage. The vote wasn’t even close. The amendment passed by a whopping 57-43 percent margin as part of a larger push by Republicans to incite fervor in their base during George W. Bush's re-election campaign. Since then, Basic Rights Oregon had been eying the 2004 amendment for possible repeal. Should the organization hit the go button to bring the issue to the voters again in 2012? For now, that looks like a risky move—BRO’s internal poll numbers predict a evenly split electorate. The organization didn't want to risk putting the amendment up only to see if fail, and they just weren't quite confident enough that the state had shifted enough since 2004. “Who would ever choose to go into a ballot measure at 50-50?” says Jeana Frazzini, the group's executive director. “We need a solid cushion of...

Why Obama Won't Be Punished For His "Evolution" On Marriage Equality

President Obama discussing same-sex marriage.
If you were Mitt Romney right now, you'd probably feel like you're the victim of a double-standard. When you have changed your position on an issue in the past, everyone took it as proof that you have no core of beliefs and you'll flip-flop whenever the situation demands. But when Barack Obama does the same thing, he gets to say he has "evolved" and nobody takes it as proof of a character flaw. Surely, Mitt might be saying to himself, Americans will see this for the craven, politically motivated flip-flop it is and punish Obama for it, no matter what they think about gay marriage. I'm afraid Mitt is going to be out of luck on this one. Obama's evolution will be treated differently than Romney's changes in position, for one important reason: because millions of people have gone through a similar evolution in the last few years. Most of us haven't changed our opinions about abortion or cap and trade or gun control recently (if ever), but most Americans have changed the way they think...

An Evolution Too Little, Too Late?

Obama still has a chance to lead on LGBT rights—if he takes it.

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Last June, President Obama was pressed at a news conference on how his famous “evolution” on marriage equality was coming along. "I'll keep on giving you the same answer until I give you a different one," he said . It was another in a long line of wink-wink statements indicating that the president’s stated opposition to same-sex marriage was shifting. Everybody knew the “different answer” was coming—just not when. Now we know. “At a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama told ABC’s Robin Roberts today. The interview, which will air in full on tomorrow’s Good Morning America, was hastily arranged when Obama’s “I’m getting there” position on same-sex marriage went from being merely annoying to utterly ludicrous. After Vice President Biden and two cabinet members declared their support for gay marriage, the president’s spokespeople were finding it impossible...

I Am Gobsmacked

(Flickr/ntssu)
Well, I guess I'm cynical. I had a list of reasons as long as my arm for President Obama NOT to state that he favors equal marriage. My heart is turning such cartwheels that I am not sure I can write anything cogent. Here's what I was all ready to say before the announcement: In practice, the White House has already backed same-sex marriage as fully as it can at the federal level. Under the tenth amendment, individual states write the marriage rules—not the president or Congress. The federal government merely applies its rules and regs to marriages the states have performed. The exceptions str marriages like mine, between two men or two women—which, under the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, the federal government is barred from recognizing. DOMA passed before any state had yet legalized marriage equality. Now that six states and the District of Columbia marry two women and two men, some married couples have brought lawsuits against DOMA, and are winning in the federal...

Doing the Right Thing Was the Right Thing

WikiMedia Commons
Today is obviously a great and historic moment for President Obama, who decided today to follow the Prospect 's Jamelle Bouie's advice and openly favor same-sex marriage. The effects are primarily symbolic, but it's still a good thing that he decided to match his excellent policy record on LBGT issues with the correct position on a crucial civil-rights issue. One question that is sure to come up is whether this decision will harm President Obama's chance of re-election. I'm sure some members of Obama's political team were urging him to maintain the incoherent mess of a position he nominally took before today. This is, for reasons I discussed in the context of LBJ last week, certainly a serious question. Romney winning the 2012 election would be a disaster for LBGT rights, starting with the fact that this would probably result in Antonin Scalia being to the left of the median Supreme Court justice. Particularly since Obama has done pretty much all that is within his power to advance...

Where to Live If You're Gay

We're having a gay old week, aren't we? The White House press corps battles poor Jay Carney about Obama's eternally evolving position on same-sex marriage after the president's presumed proxies, Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, come out in favor. Meanwhile, North Carolina—an important swing state—reveals exactly why, in an election year, Obama might be just a little cautious about openly endorsing what his administration clearly backs: Why would any candidate in a high-stakes election make himself a target on an issue that has significant opposition in key states? My colleague Gabriel Arana wrote the definitive piece on yesterday's loss in North Carolina; I don't really have anything to add. But the National Journal 's Alex Roarty has some excellent reporting and analysis on that consideration here , including the obvious: Obama’s description of himself as “evolving” on the issue amounts to a public flirtation, and has prompted speculation that he’ll become a gay-...

The Price of Prejudice

Amendment One passed yesterday, 61-39 percent, making North Carolina the 30th state to put a ban on same-sex marriage right in the state constitution.

(AP Photo/Jerry Wolford, News-Record )
Another day, another damned defeat. It wasn't much of a surprise. Despite heroic efforts by gay-rights activists , yesterday North Carolinians amended their state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Amendment One passed by an overwhelming 22-percent margin. Gay marriage is already illegal in North Carolina by statute, but amending the constitution ensures that state courts can't overturn the law. (Small consolation prize: Obama says he’s “disappointed” that voters in North Carolina didn’t “evolve” any faster than he has . [ UPDATE ]: The president declared his support for marriage equality today.) For supporters of gay rights, it's another setback in a war that, overall, seems to be going the right way. But it's disappointing nonetheless, and there are a few things that are both telling and especially harmful about the gay-marriage ban in North Carolina. Opponents of marriage equality in the state weren't just satisfied with stopping gay people from getting married. Amendment One...

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